TÁR (2022)

Dir. Todd Field


The world that Todd Field crafts in “TÁR” is one of great lore and intrigue because of the window into the world, Lydia Tár (portrayed masterfully by Cate Blanchett, more on her later) is a conductor, EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards) recipient, and the first female conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic who is on the cusp of joining the pantheon of maestros that includes Leonard Bernstein, Gustav Mahler, and J.S. Bach. The crowning achievement that cements this? The recording of all 9 of Mahler’s symphonies, the last to be recorded is the fifth, which takes hold for most of “TÁR.” The buildup to this is as intense as any big action finale you can think of, and it’s because of the Kubrickian direction that Todd Field approached this with, it’s a behemoth of a film, and that’s what makes it perfect. 

At its core Field’s film is two things, an analysis of modern power dynamics using the “#metoo” movement as its metaphor, and a showcase that is the power of Cate Blanchett. Already regarded in a similar nature to her character, Blanchett continues to showcase new acting abilities and commitment to roles that are rarely heard of. Even with the continued talks of method acting, Blanchett managed to top those performers and never hit that wave of controversy. Her transformation from a respected, powerful woman to an animal that attacks anyone who infringes on her territory, no this is literal, she goes feral in the third act, and it’s almost laughable because of how insane it is, and that’s the point. The “fall from grace” trope has been done to death in modern cinema, but somehow Field manages to make it feel fresh, and when your film is 158 minutes, it has to feel that way. 

The runtime has been a subject of discussion with the average runtime of films rising (there were no less than 13 major releases that were longer than 150 minutes in 2022) it never outstays its welcome, every second of film is earned because of the skill of the talent in front of the camera, and it’s not just Blanchett. Nina Hoss has long been a staple of German cinema, and with the film set in Berlin, having an outstanding performer like Hoss only enhances the frame and adds an exceptional emotional undercurrent to her and Blanchett, as Tár’s wife Sharon Goodnow, who is also entangled in Tár’s web as her concertmaster at the Philharmonic. The other tangled in the web is Francesca Lentini, Tár’s assistant who helps suppress any “situations” and has aspirations to be the next assistant conductor to the Philharmonic. 

At the same time that Tár is preparing to record Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, she is preparing the launch of her book “Tár on Tár” and the debut of her first symphony is being highly anticipated (but is being held up by her deteriorating mental state). All of this pressure is shown through her increasing drug use, and stealing her wife’s medication, she has hallucinations and is hearing strange noises in her office (actually her old apartment). This is only compounded by the suicide of an old student of Tár’s, with whom she had an inappropriate relationship, taking advantage of her position to grant favors in return for others. After her suicide, Tár’s world falls fast, and the walls she built so high fall seemingly overnight. The fall of Lydia Tár is like a car crash in slow motion that you can’t look away from. It’s beautifully captured by German cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister and utilizes long, unbroken takes that never feels long. 

The standout scene is a masterclass at Julliard, where Field and Hoffmeister capture Blanchett eviscerating a student for dismissing Bach and other white male conductors in a brutal 10-minute unbroken take. Blanchett owns every second, her presence in every frame is felt, and her control over that scene is asphyxiating, but as the film goes on Tár’s control lessens, as her power is broken. The film breaks the viewer down just as much as Tár, and it’s a brilliant feeling by the end, to be in the same feeling as Tár- tired. Field wants the viewer exhausted by the end of the film, but it’s a charm, it’s a feeling to look forward to because it’s a joy to be exhausted by a film that has such vision and control over how it goes about its subject (performers and themes). 

Field’s film immediately was a film that I knew was something special by the end of the first five minutes, which shows the entire credits in reverse before seeing a single frame of film, he puts the crew out in front just as much as Blanchett, they made the film what it is, it’s a token of gratitude and as a film lover, it’s nice to see. However, there are the final five minutes, which can seem strange for some viewers, but this writer loved the absurdity of it while appreciating the lengths Field went to so his vision was achieved. It’s a perfect film, every frame is masterfully crafted and every department is working at the top of their game and making everything work together in a symphony that only Mahler could’ve written. Field is a composer here, and his recent comments on this being his final film do make this writer feel a certain emotion, it’s a cathedral of a film to go out on, and for the future of cinema this will be a film that must, and will, be studied by future generations in the same vein as Kubrick, it’s a film deserving of thanks, so thank you, Mr. Field.