Cate Blanchett is masterful as maestro in a crisis

Cate Blanchett is masterful as maestro in a crisis

Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) is a wildly accomplished conductor and composer who lives a life of luxury. She is the first woman to conduct the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, but when she has engagements in New York, her wealthy benefactor Elliot Kaplan (Mark Strong) sends a private jet.

Tár lives in a large, tasteful gray apartment with her supportive partner Sharon (Nina Hoss), who is also her lead violinist, and their somewhat introverted daughter Petra (Mila Bogojevic). Sharon does most of the childcare because Tár’s focus is clearly her career: she’s already completed the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) clean sweep and is about to publish a book of called Tár on Tár.

Lydia Tár isn’t a real person, but this gripping film about the corrupting effects of power and privilege will make you think she is. That’s partly because director-turned-director Todd Field has created a terrifyingly believable character and world she presides over. This is Field’s first feature in 16 years, and he hasn’t held back: Tár has an epic running time of 157 minutes that fully justifies it.

Cate Blanchett won a Golden Globe for her performance. CREDIT: Universal Pictures

Tár also feels real because of Blanchett’s virtuoso performance that just won her a Golden Globe. The scenes where she conducts the orchestra are not just convincing, but moving and transporting. Her maestro (as all Tár call her) is brilliant, self-absorbed, manipulative, duplicitous and cruel. In a chilling early scene, she confronts her daughter’s playboy bully by looking the little girl in the eye and hissing, “I’ll get you.”

Tár is preparing for a live recording of Symphony No. 5, which is expected to become another monumental achievement, but it is also facing numerous distractions. She wants to get rid of the shady assistant conductor Sebastian Brix (Allan Corduner), but knows it will look too convenient if she replaces him with her assistant Francesca Lentini (Noémie Merlant). After all, rumors are already swirling about the Tár’s shady dealings with young women looking to climb the classical ladder.

One of them, who we never see on screen, appears to suffer from mental health issues and may be stalking Tár. As chaos creeps into the maestro’s previously peaceful universe, everyday sounds seem to disturb him greatly. However, this does not stop Tár from developing an inappropriate obsession with Olga Metkina (Sophie Kauer), a talented twenty-year-old cellist who has just joined the orchestra. She even devises a cheeky plan to further the young musician’s progress.

Noémie Merlant as Tár’s assistant protégé, Francesca Lentini. CREDIT: Universal Pictures

When Sharon tells her arrogant partner that almost every relationship in her life is “transactional,” she is absolutely correct. Tár is a quiet caretaker who gets what she wants from everyone in her orbit, but she is also being used by others. Likewise, Field’s film isn’t just about a hubristic abuser getting her comeuppance; it also raises timely questions about identity politics and our ability to separate great art from the problematic artists who made it.

As Tár’s life falls apart, Field seems to be trying to find a way to let him go. He comes with one – his closing shot will make you gasp – but only after a slightly extended final act. Then again, maybe that’s intentional: Tár may be down to earth, but like many monsters, she’s nothing if not resilient. This dazzling character study will haunt you long after the credits roll.

Details Director: Todd Field Starring: Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant Release Date: January 13 (UK)

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