By Bradley Lane
The release of this year’s Tár marks writer-director Todd Field’s first film in over 15 years. After racking up eight Academy Award nominations for just two films in the early 2000s, Field seemingly took a long hiatus from filmmaking. However, Field has a long history in that time period of developing films that just didn’t end up getting made, mostly due to a lack of funding. However, the wait for his return ended this September at the Venice Film Festival, where Tár premiered to near universal acclaim. I’ll be the first to admit, this film won’t be for everyone given its lengthy runtime and dry, unflashy style. However, this is must-see cinema as the film delivers a tightly constructed character study that expertly utilizes precise and thoughtful camerawork and has the undisputed performance of the year from Cate Blanchett in the starring role.
Following Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchette) as she prepares to conduct Mahler’s fifth symphony, Tár is the story of her fall from grace. As the film begins and we are introduced to Tár it is made clear that she is one of the most accomplished composer-conductors in the world. Having won every major award and secured a spot as the lead director with one of the top five orchestras in the world, Tár is on top. However, as she mounts the challenge of conducting Mahler’s mysterious fifth symphony, a pattern of dubious and questionable behaviors comes to the public’s attention and Lydia is forced to reckon with the weight of her past actions.
When I saw the biggest film out of the festival circuit this year was a nearly three-hour film about “cancel culture” I was immediately skeptical. Movies only get made by public figures and people with social and economic power, so I imagined their perspectives on the subject would be played out and condescending. Refreshingly, what Tár actually does is ask questions, not state positions. In this way, it is the only piece of artwork that has yet communicated the endlessly complicated and nuanced nature of the subject.
Because of this, Tár exists in the in between. Not once does the film telegraph how the audience should feel about its events; instead, it does its best to present the character’s drama in a thought-provoking neutral light. The lack of non-diegetic music also serves to enhance this cold, dry, almost documentary-like style of filmmaking. What makes the film truly extraordinary though, is the power it finds through ambiguity and simplicity. Every shot, every composition, every single mannerism and facial expression serves to communicate as much information to the audience as possible.
Tár’s power is its quiet nature. Not since Haneke or Bresson has so much feeling been provoked with so little spectacle. It’s pure craft, taken to its limit. It is a singular work that is spearheaded by a force of nature, once-in-a career level performance by Cate Blanchette. Tár is a challenging film that will leave you with more questions than answers, but if you engage with the film on its own terms, I promise you will be rewarded for your time. Tár is currently showing only in theaters. – 5/5 stars