Set in the international world of Western classical music, the film centers on Lydia Tár, widely considered one of the greatest living composer-conductors and the very first female director of a major German orchestra.

It’s been a long time since Todd Field’s last movie, 2006’s ‘Little Children’, and his return to filmmaking is the story of a ‘cancelled’ conductor starring the imperious Cate Blanchett in the central role. She is Lydia Tár, a celebrated female conductor in a world of men, the first female conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra, who we first meet as she is on stage in New York, promoting her new book and an upcoming live recording. In other words, Lydia Tar is on top of the world and intends to continue conquering it. This of course being a movie ensures that this will not last, and we start to learn that accusations have been levelled against Tár regarding her treatment of young woman in the industry.

Tar’ is not a simple story of female success, but a far more complicated tale around power and those who wield it, and how it can be just as corrupting in the hands of a powerful female as in those of a powerful man. Crucially, we only see Tár through her own experiences, which leaves a good degree of ambiguity about whether the accusations levelled at her are with merit or not, and it forces us to judge her based on what we do see, and partially on what we do not. What we see is an individual who believes they are untouchable, who is dismissive of colleagues and who uses their power and fame in the industry to influence hiring and firing decisions. If that wasn’t enough, she appears to be in a cold relationship with a colleague (well played by Nina Hoss) and an even colder one with her daughter – a nice touch is that she always refers to her mother by her first name. In short, Lydia Tár is not a particularly nice person, but that does that mean she is guilty of the more serious allegations that she has been accused of? That is the crux of what ‘Tár‘ sets out to explore, and it is a far more nuanced take on post-#MeToo workplace dynamics and being ‘cancelled’ than many other works.

The above describes (to me at least!), an intriguing and thought provoking psychological drama, and all the ingredients are there, but something about ‘Tár’ left me a little cold and unable to be fully gripped by its story. Perhaps it is the 2h40m runtime with the self-indulgent opening credits, perhaps it is the setting within the world of classical music, a world in which I hold little interest, or perhaps it is the cold and clinical nature of Tár herself. Whatever it is, I found myself enjoying ‘Tár‘ a lot less than I had hoped and indeed expected to. Cate Blanchett is of course utterly magnificent and deserving of all the plaudits that are coming her way, simply embodying Tár so fully that you could forget you’re watching one of the world’s foremost performers. It also has some terrific sequences, such as a brilliant takedown of the folly and futility of judging long dead artists by their misdeeds and not their talents, and the final act and conclusion is great, but the journey as a whole wasn’t as engrossing or as satisfying as I wanted it to be.

Perhaps ‘Tár’ is a movie that would reward more on a rewatch and it has undoubtedly resonated with a lot of people, but from my perspective, this was a movie that tackled contemporary themes with nuance with some wonderful performances, but as a viewing experience it didn’t fully come alive for me.

Rating: 3/5

Directed By: Todd Field

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant, Sophie Kauer, Julian Glover, Allan Corduner, Mark Strong, Sylvia Flote, Adam Gopnik, Mila Bogojevic and Zethphan Smith-Gneist


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