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  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

TÁR // Film Review

“Do you feel triumphant?”

Tár never goes the way you might expect, or indeed hope. It is ostensibly a film about cancel culture and the anxieties of working in the public eye, but to label it as such is to do a disservice to one of the most muted, but no less torturous tragedies to come from American cinema in years.

The film stars Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár, an acclaimed conductor currently doing press for her much anticipated rendition of Mahler’s Fifth. In interviews, Tár is incredibly well spoken, if a bit pompous. She simply radiates intelligence, lacking only the awareness to scale it back for younger ears.

This becomes apparent in an early sequence wherein Tár, whilst teaching a class at Juilliard, comes into conflict with a BIPOC student who refuses to work on Bach to his ‘problematic past.’ Tár is right to challenge this of course, but her word choices in the ensuing argument fill us with dread. We live in an era of misquotes and edited clips, and it seems likely that our oblivious hero will soon learn this the hard way.

But she doesn’t, not immediately anyway, and that is the stroke of genius which keeps this film riveting at every step. Nearly two hours pass before Tár faces any sort of ‘cancellation’, as director Todd Field sets a series of increasingly damaging social traps for his protagonist, with Blanchett gamely and obliviously striding through each in turn. By the time Tár’s reckoning finally comes, the deck is stacked so high against her that it feels more akin to murder than libel.

Blanchett is impeccable in the lead role, straying a difficult line between her character’s immense intelligence and off-putting pomposity, with just a dash of arrogance underlining her every move. Arguments can and certainly will be had over whether the character deserves her Ozymandian downfall at the film’s end, but the process taking us there never feels unfair nor cruel. As Tár explains early in the film, the role of a conductor is to have absolute control over time, and by the end of this exceedingly patient tragedy, the final beats all feel earned, even if you wish it had gone any other way.

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival 2022.


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