/ 13 March 2023

One Movie Two Takes: Tár

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Conduct: Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár in Todd Field’s spectacular film. Photo: Focus Feature

Run, do not walk, to the nearest cinema to watch Tár (2022) starring Cate Blanchett, who plays Lydia Tár, one of the most important musical composers of our time. Tár is a lesbian and an EGOT — she is a winner of all four major entertainment awards: an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. 

Tár juxtaposes the brilliance of genius with a highly-flawed (and sometimes guilty) human. The film engages with the subject of suicide, but does not warn audiences. 

Tár is a fiercely flawed and complex maestro, making her intriguing, but someone you wouldn’t want to know in real life. Tár’s flaw is her habit of having inappropriate relationships within her orchestras as she abuses musicians, creating a power imbalance. Tár’s ego and staccato speaking are intimidating, making others tremble in her presence. 

Blanchett’s performance is ferocious, making Tár’s fall from grace smack the floor that much harder than the typical fallen protagonist. As a fashion aficionado, one can’t help but consider Tár as a style icon, thanks to costume designer Bina Daigeler. Tár’s cerebral and chic wardrobe sports The Row, Dries van Noten and Lemaire. 

Tár is director Todd Field’s first film in 15 years, and does a magical job of holding audiences’ attention for over two hours. Tár is a fictional story and not a biopic, although it seems real. In the opening scene at a New Yorker festival, Tár is interviewed by a real journalist, Adam Gopnik. 

Following this interview, we see Tár’s views on conflating the art with the artist where she berates a Juilliard student on what is, and is not, acceptable from great artists. 

This student identifies as BIPOC and pangender, and judges artists not only by their work, but their personal life, which he credits as his reason for not listening to Bach.

One of the best scenes is of Tár discussing today’s climate of being accused as the same as being guilty, where an artist known for inappropriate behaviour shifts how people perceive their art. Once both sides have said what they want to say, the debate ends, unlike these debates in real life. 

Some storylines feel like they were plucked from today’s news headlines in the #MeToo era; where cancel culture dictates media narratives and public perception; and discussions from queer communities to have their voices heard. Field does a great job of blurring the line between fiction and reality. 

Despite the film centring on a figure whose life is consumed by classical music, we never see a full orchestral performance. Some of the scenes tend to be verbose, but the discussions remind us that music is not only about how it sounds. What music makes you feel, tells you more. There is no limitation to what music can allow you to feel.

As Tár says, a soul selects its own society. She shows us the orchestra is not a democracy, but rather tyrannic with a bravado-like nature. Tár’s tempo can be slow, but it is not fast to lose our interest. It is an architecturally sexy film; both voyeuristic and ghostly while building to the crescendo of Tár’s plight. — Kimberley Schoeman 

What a gobsmacking, thrilling, ostentatious yet marvellous complex psychodrama the film Tár is. Let me start by mentioning the exceptional cinematography of the movie directed by Germany’s Florian Hoffmeister. 

The outstanding camera work has scored him a nomination for Best Cinematography at the 95th Academy Awards, set to take place on Sunday, 12 March. Much like the film itself, Lydia Tár has been captured in a peculiar and ambiguous manner that toys between alluring and ill-favoured at times. 

This is mainly accomplished in scenes where multi-award-winning actress Cate Blanchett’s character begins to untangle and become unhinged. Tár is a successful, extensively researched and accomplished conductor whose career defines her identity. 

Hoffmeister uses a potent key light to demonstrate Tár’s power, authority, confidence and gripping on-stage presence while she performs. In contrast, in moments of isolation and vulnerability the lighting is more neutral to reflect intimacy and privacy.  

Director Todd Field uses Lydia’s role to unpeel the complexities of art and the creatives behind it, exploring whether it’s really possible to separate the art from the artist. 

All this while also uncovering the difficulty in transactional relationships, abuse of power and accountability. 

I couldn’t help but notice the manner in which cancel culture is somewhat touched on and the role it plays when experiencing an artist’s work. 

A juxtaposition is created between how art used to be appreciated solely, to the current public scrutiny into artists’ lives — the narrative has shifted, which Tár struggles with. 

What was also striking is how the music conductor isn’t too concerned about being evaluated through the lens of gender but much rather through her achievements. 

Our world places emphasis on being the “first woman” to reach a milestone, which isn’t necessarily bad, considering the years it’s taken women to be afforded opportunities equivalent to men. We can compete as equals.

Although the film is more than two hours long, Blanchett’s stellar performance is compelling, thrilling, captivating and authentic. 

I doubt I’ll ever watch another movie she stars in without being reminded of what a phenomenal role she played in Tár. 

Her character is manipulative, proud, egotistical, superior, an insomniac and deceptively calculating. To achieve success, she assimilates to an idea of what it means to be successful and becomes just that. In doing so, power becomes essential and her abuse of it contributes to her downfall. 

Blanchett’s performance earned her various awards including a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture at the ceremony in 2022 and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role at this year’s show.   

Tár is cryptic, intense and riveting. There’s so much to take in. The plot is intentional and layered with intriguing twists that makes for exceptional viewing. — Bongeka Gumede