Tár: The BRWC Review
Tár: The BRWC Review. By Joe Muldoon.
A triumphant return after a 16-year directorial hiatus, Tár forwards a compelling case for consideration to be crowned as Todd Field’s magnum opus. The age-old ‘art from artist’ separation dilemma has been explored endlessly for decades in film, but rarely has it been so sophistically laid out as it has in this film. Clearly painstakingly researched, Tár perfectly captures the atmosphere of the academic music sphere. Led by an utterly astonishing Cate Blanchett as the titular character, Tár is a tale of power, hubris, and manipulation.
Lydia Tár is a powerhouse in the world of contemporary classical music; a composer, a conductor, a trailblazer – her influence is inescapable. Blanchett’s dedication to the character is staggering, with her having learnt to speak German and re-learnt how to play piano for the role. More impressive yet, Blanchett learnt to conduct, going so far as to preside over the Dresden Philharmonic orchestra through a playthrough of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, a fittingly grandiose piece for the story.
Tár has somewhat of a godlike view of herself, shown through her comments made during a guest talk, describing the duties and powers of a conductor, the way in which they stop and manipulate time to fit the piece they’re leading. Alas, even gods can’t always outrun their sins, and must face up to the consequences eventually – and this downfall thunderously crashes down upon her, and at great price.
Small cracks gradually collect throughout the film, and the ruthlessness behind her veil emerges piece by piece. During a masterclass at the prestigious Juilliard School, Tár humiliates a young student upon his dismissal of Bach on various ideological grounds, ironically pushing her audience to separate art from the artist. The cinematography of the scene is breathtaking, brilliantly captured by an unbroken 10-minute take.
Part of Tár’s uniqueness lies in the fact that it breaks the pattern of powerful men abusing their authority over others, instead portraying a woman being the one to do so – in this case, amongst other things, exchanging sexual favours for little boosts to those under her tutelage. When Francesca, Tár’s assistant and aspiring conductor, reveals that an ex-student (with whom the callous conductor exchanged favours), Krista, has killed herself and that her parents intend to sue, Tár urges her to delete all email correspondences pertaining to the student in an attempt to cover her trail. The damage, however, has been done; she deliberately torpedoed Krista’s career, and the emails leave enough evidence to strongly suggest it.
”Just because nobody dares breathe it – we know the things you do, the little favours you grant”, blurts out a colleague as Tár effectively spontaneously shows him the door to his relatively safe position. The fear felt by her colleagues has led to total silence amongst them, enabling Tár’s reign of abuse. Upon hearing that she won’t be given an expected promotion, Francesca abruptly resigns her role as assistant, and the offending emails coincidentally find an audience, lighting the fuse for her old boss’ tremendous undoing. Naturally, this doesn’t initially lead to an epiphany, but a rather self-pitying, ‘et tu, Brute?’ moment.
Though most attention has been directed towards Blanchett for her role (understandably so), the magnificence of her supporting cast cannot be overlooked. Noémie Merlant, quickly becoming a major figure in queer cinema, approaches the role of Francesca with subtle elegance, and Nina Hoss is equally splendid as Sharon Goodnow, Lydia’s partner and fellow musician. Special praise is due for Sophie Kauer, who having no prior acting experience, learnt how to act for her part as Olga Metkina by watching Michael Caine acting tutorials on YouTube – Tár is currently her only acting credit.
Blanchett convincingly breathes life into the world of Lydia Tár in such a way that we forget that we’re not watching a biopic, but one of the most convincing character studies of a fictional woman committed to film. Though there’s tight competition amongst the community-predicted upcoming Academy Award nominees, this could quite possibly earn Blanchett her third acting Oscar, and deservedly so. Tár is a spectacular depiction of the corrosive nature of power and its abuses, and is the finest film about classical music since Amadeus.
By Joe Muldoon
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