2022, R, 158 mins.
Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár / Nina Hoss as Sharon Goodnow / Noémie Merlant as Francesca Lentini / Mark Strong as Eliot Kaplan / Julian Glover as Andris Davis / Allan Corduner as Sebastian Goodnow / Sophie Kauer as Olga Metkina / Sylvia Flote as Krista Taylor / Vincent Riotta as Cory BergWritten and directed by Todd Field
I know so very little about the world of music conductors and composers, which is why I was frankly surprised to learn that writer/director Todd Field's TAR is not based on a true story.
one of those rare breed of out-of-body pieces of escapism that feels
so lived-in and real that it must be based on a true story, right? Miraculously,
Making a return to the director's chair after a long absence (his
last film was his critically acclaimed 2006 effort LITTLE
CHILDREN), Field has opted to make a fictitious portrait of the
titular character, a woman that's an acclaimed pianist, ethnomusicologist,
composer, and - we learn very early on in the film - the first female
chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic.
TAR is also about vanity and ego run amok and how great artists -
no matter how ambitious minded, intelligent, and naturally gifted - let
their self-absorption get the better of them in highly damaging ways.
That, and Field's third film attempts to be a sobering drama of the
post-MeToo movement, albeit with somewhat problematic results (more or
that it a bit).
Like LITTLE CHILDREN before it, TAR is a patient (maybe too
patient) and observant character study of people navigating dicey moral
The film is also quarterbacked by what just may be Cate Blanchett's
most mesmerizing performance of her career, and if one considers the
vastness of her superlative resume and work then that's truly saying
Oscar winning actress plays Lydia Tar, who's a fully fictional composer
She has the kind of career that would be the envy of most in her
field, and the manner that she conducts herself on a daily basis reflects
She's on the verge of having what would be best described as an
all-time high career year as she's prepping an autobiography and is moving
to Germany to begin her tireless work to record Gustav Mahler's Symphony
No. 5, the latter of which requires - in her mind - every single ounce of
her focus and time.
She has a loving and caring wife in Sharon (Nina Hoss) and both
share a young daughter in their luxuriously spacious Berlin condo.
Lydia does have to take her work home with her (seeing as her spouse is
also her lead violinist), which frequently causes some tension on both
Unfortunately for Sharon, Lydia is ferociously driven by her career.
Her new assignment is set to be the crowning achievement of her
life's work, and nothing will interfere with it.
Even those close in her inner circle - like her tirelessly devoted
assistant Francesca (Noemie Merlant), assistant conductor Sebastian (Allan
Corduner) and financial backer Eliot (hey, it's Mark Strong playing a nice
guy!) - begin to see how fanatical this woman has become.
all great obsessive artists, Lydia becomes consumed by not only her musical
purists, but also by two other nasty addictions: drugs and extramarital
Actually, in regards to the last item, Lydia seems to have this
unseemly habit of hooking up and getting uncomfortably close with far
younger female musicians that often work under her.
She has now honed in her crosshairs directly at Olga (Sophie Kauer),
who's been granted a special spot in her orchestra and, well, let's just
say that all is not completely professional and platonic between these
While this potentially scandalous event is happening, Lydia's world
is further rocked by a mysterious woman in her past referred to as
"Krista" that apparently has suddenly taken her life and whose
presence in Lydia's life (and the juicy and damaging dirt associated with
that) has the power to derail her entire career in short fashion.
Lydia then goes into quick damage control and begins deleting every
single piece of vital social media interaction with this woman, but it
becomes too little too late for her, and as allegations mount by the day
and Lydia's reputation is trampled on she begins to mentally
unravel. This, rather predictably, has horrible consequences for all
those around her.
opens TAR in a simple, by hypnotizing fashion by having Lydia participate
in an interview conducted in a vast sold-out theater.
She's being interviewed by actual New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik,
which adds one layer (upon many) of verisimilitude to this film as a
The sequences goes on for 15 or so minutes, but during said time we
get deep inside the headspace of Lydia.
It's not just an contrived expositional dump (granted, we do learn
so much about her, like the fact that - beyond her virtuosity as a
musician, pianist, and conductor - she has become an EGOT member for
winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). We also get a glimpse
into her uncommon level of knowledge of the musical world, not to mention
her dogged arrogance and limitless self-anointed greatness.
It's during this interview that we gain a strong understanding of
who this woman is, what she represents, and what makes her tick, and one
of the major takeaways from it is that she's also a person totally
consumed by her stature and what she's set to attain in her career.
Everyone else will take a back seat...or else.
There's also an unmistakable tease of the physiological horror show
to come and a large hint here that the rest of TAR will become harder and
harder to watch as it progresses.
the rest of the film progresses we grow to realize that this woman is
indeed a certified genius, but she's also capable of being a toxic being
that relishes in making those that she perceives as being beneath her
Take one excruciatingly painful to endure scene - all done in one
long take - that involves Lydia teaching a class at Julliard.
She has a black pansexual student that takes issue - albeit
politely - with her take on Bach.
Basically, she mercilessly takes him apart piece by piece in front
on the rest of the students for not taking serious interest in white
cisgender composers like Bach.
The manner that she belittles this poor student is a large enough
of an insult in itself, but she also perhaps chooses the wrong person to
engage in a discussion of propping up dead white/male composers.
The cinematography here by Florian Hoffmeister is on full masterful
display in sequences like this and countless others, as Field chooses to
employ such fastidious stylistic conceits to reinforce the fanatical
desires and drives of his subject matter.
That, and witnessing a totally uncut scene with no edits and all
done in one take involving sinewy camera moves really underscores just how
unsettling it is for some to share the same space with Lydia.
There's a Kubrickian formalism on display that should hardly be
surprising considering Field appeared in the late filmmaker's last film in
1999's EYES WIDE SHUT.
technique and storytelling choices here coalesce together to make Lydia
and her world feel like fact-based entities.
There's something to be said about how slow moving and casual TAR
is during its first half, which allows viewers to become engrossed and
immersed within the minutia of this woman's daily home and professional
life as well as all of her unhealthy passions that will come to get the
better of her.
So much of what's on display in the film is so eerily convincing as
both a character study and a portrait into the madness behind music, and I
can easily see how many may come out of TAR thinking that it's some sort
It's pretty extraordinary to concede that, yes, Lydia Tar is a
purely make-believe person, but the way that Field frames her story and
grounds her in our reality and present gives the film such an uncanny
Having so many scenes conduct themselves in long unbroken takes is
paramount to this, but Field is also keenly observant in the small details
that relate to Lydia's ultimate self-implosion.
Her relationship with Olga is key, and what's interesting here is
that this young musician is not without talent and clearly deserves her
spot on Lydia's crew, but watching the latter conduct herself with this
student outside of the orchestra shows how powerful people use their power
in unethical ways.
What Lydia doesn't know is that a video of her aforementioned
lecture goes out on social media, which is one domino falling that leads
to her downfall.
She was simply too proud of herself in the moment to even consider
that what she was saying could be damaging to someone, let alone be
secretly recorded and used for purposes of character assassination.
of the areas that I think TAR stumbles, though, is the concept of power
dynamics, gender politics, cancel culture, and the MeToo movement.
Lydia is a vindictive force of power in the film.
There can be no doubt of that.
And it's also about how a powerful person positions herself to take
advantage of others.
It's not that the discourse in this film isn't important or
relevant, nor does it fail in its portrait of cancel culture coming after
prominent woman as well as men.
Lydia is a woman that just so happens to be a musical dynamo and a
predatory force all the same.
There are some fascinating complexities at the core of TAR, and the
film certainly doesn't let Lydia off the hook for her inexcusable
The manner with which she's cancelled, though, is via a heavily
edited-out-of-context video of her berating that pansexual student in her
She's undoubtedly an unsavory bully and failed to respect this
student's ideology at all with her offensive language, but the recording
is kind of a hatchet job and its editing radically alters how things
actually went down.
I'm not entirely sure what Fields was trying to actually say here
about the method of Lydia being cancelled...or about cancel culture as a
Obviously, Lydia deserved what came to her, but the evidence used
to condemn and ruin her was skillfully manufactured when it probably
didn't even need to be.
For a film that's so long at nearly three hours, I was surprised by
how lacking it was in fully tackling these timely issues. There's
also very little exploration of the actual victimized student in question
appears and then disappears, but his presence then reappears later in that
video...and not much else.
fair, TAR is not told from the victim's prerogative, but rather through
Lydia's twisted mindset. It's only in the final 40-50 minutes when
Field's film becomes wholly engulfing as we witness the post-cancelled
Lydia failing to own up to her clear-cut transgressions and opts to
maliciously battle to maintain relevance - and power - in her field, but
with mostly tragic results. Watching this world implode on her in these
final sections is when TAR hits its potent stride, but that's also tied
into another problem on display, namely the film's self-indulgent running
a 158 minutes, much of the opening half of TAR is intriguing, to be fair,
but sometimes elephantine in its pacing and takes seemingly forever to get
to the heart of what it wants to be about.
Field is obviously trying to get viewers as deeply (and
unnervingly) embedded in this woman's universe as possible, but it takes
roughly an hour and a half before the film achieves any kind of sustained
long films earn their length and don't feel it, but TAR has difficulty
justifying its bloat and probably would have been better rendered in a
shorter cut. This
also might be too impenetrably
cold of a film to sit through for many considering its subject matter. That's
not to say that you can't make a great or long film about bad people, but
TAR's overall meticulousness in its slow burn story rollout will
definitely have many checking their watches throughout.