Cinema Review: Tár (2022)
Written and directed by Todd Field
Produced by: Todd Field, Alexandra Milchan and Scott Lambert
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, Julian Glover, Allan Corduner, Mark Strong etc.
Cinematography Florian Hoffmeister
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Tar (definition): a dark, thick flammable liquid distilled from wood or coal, consisting of a mixture of hydrocarbons, resins, alcohols, and other compounds. It is used in road-making and for coating and preserving timber.
Todd Field’s classical film masterpiece, Tár (2022), was hailed by critics when released late last year in the U.S.A and made many top ten film of the year lists. I saw it in the first week of 2023 and while I don’t always concur with the gushing hyperbole of professional film critics, I have to say if I see a better cinema release all year I will be amazed. Let’s hope I do.
Tár (2022) is a film which works on many genre and narrative layers. It is a psychological drama, an absorbing character study, a backstage musical, a complex morality play, with suggestions of hallucinatory horror during the final act of the film. It is a triumph of filmic brilliance expertly delivered by Todd Field. It is incredible to think this is only the third film he has directed. Certainly a case of high quality over quantity. But Field confirms himself an auteur, exerting absolute control over the material. Such is his, and the production team’s, meticulous research, writing, planning, design and execution that if I hadn’t seen the credits, I would have said the maestro Stanley Kubrick had made this film.
Tár (2022) opens with haunting singing over the imaginatively presented credits that slowly fill a black screen. Field demonstrates control from the start before we are introduced to Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett). Now, I thought the film may have been a story about a female conductor attempting to break into a traditionally male dominated world. However, Lydia Tár is at the top of her game as a conductor and composer, heralded for her genius interpretations of the music of Mahler and own oeuvre. Plus, having won numerous awards for her cinema, theatre and television compositions. Lydia Tár is soaring and about to release a book Tár on Tár and conduct a live recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony for the Berlin Philharmonic. So, where’s the drama? What could go wrong?
Field structures the linear narrative around Tár’s day-to-day working and family life and the process of rehearsing Mahler’s Fifth. Methodically we are then introduced to actions from Tár’s recent past which threaten to haunt her. As a character who is so revered and in control of her world, Tár’s talent and confidence is magnetic and admirable. However, having no doubt been a force of nature to make it this competitive world, her arrogance and lack of awareness of a changing culture threatens to cancel her prodigiously built dominion. I won’t say anymore but Todd Field brilliantly explores resonating themes of the zeitgeist with razor-sharp intelligence. There are no easy answers either.
I could not take my eyes or mind off the screen during Tár (2022). It is cerebrally, aesthetically and psychologically all-encompassing. The stark cinematography, exhilarating classically-driven soundtrack, imposing Berlin architecture and claustrophobic feel of the Philharmonic offices and rehearsal spaces collude to create further emotional tension. Further, the film not only works impressively as absorbing drama, but also as interpretive ambiguity with subtle and mysterious suspense. Lastly, if Cate Blanchett does not win a best acting Oscar for her performance in Tár (2022) I will be stunned. Never less than metronomically astounding, Blanchett has taken Field’s precise writing and breathed physical, mental and spiritual vivacity into a challenging personality. Thus, take many-a-bow maestros, Blanchett and Field. Encore! Encore! Encore!