Todd Fields return delivers an engrossing character study
The debate of how one should separate art from the artist is one that has taken on a new meaning as cancel culture has spread amongst the western world. If someone is an artistic genius, can society look past personal wrongs and abuses? Such is the focus of the character study Tár (2022).
Tár follows the eponymous Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett), a world-renowned orchestra conductor who is at the peak of her career. As a conductor for the Berlin Philharmonic, she’s focused on performing Mahler’s 5thsymphony, but along the way she must navigate the politics of the orchestra as well as slowly start to face a guilt from her past that threatens to upend her career.
Tár is Todd Field’s third film in 21 years, and his first since Little Children (2006) 16 years ago. Field brings back the delicate attention to character in Tár, becoming fascinated with the unraveling of his protagonist through an incrementalistic approach. Tár begins with a sheen of pretentiousness and equal intellectual stimuli, as our protagonist discusses music, and the interpretations and roles that conductors play. However, Field slowly starts turning the screws, so that Lydia begins to lose control of her tightly knit world and is forced to confront something she’s clearly avoided for a long time: her emotions. Field achieves this patient unspooling with a mixture of engrossing, long dialogue exchanges and spooky hints of a ghost haunting. This latter was done in such a subtle and imperceptible way that many viewers will be unaware of the scary figures lurking blurrily in the background; some viewers will be reminded of Hereditary (2018) with its imperceptible presences.
Tár delves into territory that is still quite taboo in our culture: cancelation. Field has a confident enough grasp of the film to strike a balance of neither endorsing his problematic protagonist while not condemning her either. We are given an inside track into Lydia’s character, and not asked to sympathize with her so much as formulate our own conclusions about her.
The role of Lydia is so commandingly inhabited by Blanchett that you can’t imagine any other performer in it. Blanchett is able to bring an understanding to the no-nonsense character, who frankly doesn’t have many scenes to “soften” her character into becoming likeable. It is, thus, the merit of Field’s expert directing and Blanchett’s transcendent performance that makes us see the larger context and humanity surrounding the protagonist of the film and helps us accompany her through the increasing trials and tribulations.
Tár is a patient meditation on the complicated and intricate relationship amongst art, artist, and public. The film might be a bit slow for some viewers, but every scene proves crucial to diving a bit deeper and peeling back an extra layer of Lydia. The finale did go on for one too many scenes, but one can’t blame Field for indulging himself after such a long absence from the silver screen. One only hopes that he won’t deprive us of his delicate filmmaking for such a long gap again.