Lydia Tar (Cate Blanchett) is a renowned conductor who works in the best concert halls in the world, she teaches at Juilliard as a visiting expert and is preparing to release her own book. Lydia lives in two countries: she often comes to work in New York, and her family is waiting in Berlin. The absolutely perfect shell of Lydia’s life begins to burst at the seams when it becomes known about the death of her former assistant. The girl accused Lydia of suicide, after which stories about the conductor’s working intrigues began to surface. At the same time, Tar promotes the cellist she likes in the orchestra, but her career and family life are rapidly falling apart.
Todd Fields seems to be the only person who has been productively quarantined: in early 2020, the studio gave him carte blanche for a new project, and he summarized his reflections in Tar. Since the central character is literally the magnetic center of the whole story, it’s hard to imagine another actress who could carry the film straight into the seething mouth of the award season. Fields wrote the script with Cate Blanchett in mind, and was right: the actress delivers lines as well as the heroine conducts. Tar explained how the same melody can sound differently under the leadership of different conductors, and so, only Blanchett can give such a rhythm, and there is not a single false note in her playing. If we fall out of reality for a second, it may seem that we are watching a biopic about the real-life Lydia Tar, so flawlessly Blanchett built the part of her heroine.
The film answers the question that has been tormenting for the past few years: “Is it possible to separate art from the creator?” The answer itself (final) is disappointing, but exhaustive. The trick is that it is impossible not to fall in love with Lydia Tar, the heroine Blanchett is so charming that you ignore the red flags scattered by her in the course of the plot to the last. The more the plot accelerates, the more often the viewer is thrown into the first 30 minutes of the film, where Tar defended Bach in an argument with her student, who awkwardly tried to “cancel” the composer for his sins. She insisted that the violence against women noted in Schopenhauer’s biography had no effect on his creations. Although in the opening scene (a long interview at the Lincoln Center) she contradicts herself, arguing that in order to understand the work, you need to delve into the life of the author.
Tar is filled with such contradictions and internal conflicts, which is why this measured slowburner is so interesting to watch. Tod Fields chose the most appropriate approach to discussing Cancel culture, he does not lament that “cancellation” destroys art, the director’s view on the topic is more extensive and fits into two and a half hours of running time. The director does not change his corporate style, as in his previous films (“In the Bedroom”, “Little Children”), he is in no hurry and slowly lays the cards on the table. There are no cathartic moments in the film, the plot accelerates towards the end, breaking off at the funeral of the career of Lydia, whose story is similar to the case of actor Armie Hammer, who is now selling shares in timeshares in the Cayman Islands.
“Tar” is difficult to squeeze into the genre framework, the truth is in the eye of the beholder: the film can be both a situational black comedy and a heavy drama – it depends on your perception. For the same reason, the finale does not put an end to the discussion of the title theme, but rather pushes for further discussion outside the cinema. The most awkward conversations will take place in Hollywood, at parties after the awards ceremonies, because “Tar” has already received prizes from critics, collected major nominations at the Golden Globes and is steadily moving towards the Oscars.