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TÁR Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

A musical drama with minimal amount of music, plot points that seemingly run into nothing & a brilliant Cate Blanchett, who gives the performance of a lifetime!

Genre: Drama / Music

Director: Todd Field

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant, Sophie Kauer, Mila Bogojevic, Julian Glover, Allan Corduner, Mark Strong & Adam Gopnik.

Run Time: 158 min.

US Release: 28 October 2022

UK Release: 13 January 2023

German Release: 02 March 2023


I was looking forward to finally seeing this movie, not only because a large portion of it takes place in Berlin, but also due to the raving reviews Cate Blanchett obtained for her performance, as well as the whopping six academy nominations it obtained. Having seen it last night, I must confess that while I understand the intrigue and fascination for this picture, Tár is very dependent on its audience mindset, especially because the first hour is tough to get through. So let’s jump straight into my review!


Lydia Tár has achieved an admirable career, which few can only dream of. Widely regarded as one of the greatest living composers and conductors, Lydia does not only orchestrate, she manipulates. Juggling family life, while preparing for the release of her memoirs, exterior forces start to slowly chip away at Lydia’s elaborate facade.


Todd Field’s screenplay is the film’s ‘Achilles heel’, a real shame because this is the regisseur’s first directed feature since 2006's Little Children. It also doesn’t help that Field tailored the lead role to Cate Blanchett specifically, because the truth is that the needless long runtime makes for a tedious watch! The first warning signs came when the “end” credits started rolling right at the beginning, as if forcing audiences to respect all members attached to the project, before getting the first chance to run out of the theatre.


Granted, Field meticulously studied and learned about every facet of the world of professional orchestral music, for which I applaud him! Unfortunately, it all comes down to the fact that the first sixty minutes are filled with pseudo-intellectual discussion, cold inter-relationships between characters, as well as segments that lead to nothing before the real concept of the premise starts revealing itself. By then, however, the casual viewer has already checked out mentally, to care about the suspenseful drama that is slowly unfolding in the second act.


It takes a long time to get there, but once Lydia Tár’s facade starts breaking down, so does the script’s pretentiousness, as it tackles issues of cancel-culture, cyberbullying, just like sexual and psychological abuse. There is one scene early on, in a lecture hall at Julliard, which I found intriguing, as the topic of past composers comes up. Does the artist define the art, or is art free of reprimand?


The first half of the plot is wordy to a fault. It is filled with pretentiously bloated dialogues, which set up a wall, distancing any characters from being emotionally reachable. It feels like a distorted reality, making it hard to connect with anyone from that world.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room… Cate Blanchett is fantastic! Hands down, the best performance I have seen in a long time. She is a magnificent actress, fully immersing herself into the persona of Tár. She learned how to play the piano and conduct, as well as learning to speak German. I am truly mesmerised by what she accomplished here! Lydia herself is a complex personality, with many walls built up to protect her true self from scrutiny by others. That said, while one can sympathise with her, she is at no time a likeable character! She manipulates, terrorises plus abuses people emotionally.


Noémie Merlant gives another great rendition, as Lydia’s assistant Francesca, who organises her boss’s tight schedule, plus somehow being emotionally dependent on her, even though she gets treated terribly in return. We only get snippets of information about Francesca’s dream in the music industry, including suggestive murmurs that she traded sexual pleasantries to climb up the chain.


Sophie Kauer, who portrays Russian cellist Olga, gives a fabulous acting debut. She is of German-British descent and an actual cellist. Most of the acting skills she picked up were through watching Michael Cain videos on YouTube. None of that is visible here.


Nina Hoss, as Lydia’s lesbian life partner Sharon, has a smaller role yet gives a marvellous rendition. She is very much a contrast to her partner in style, life etc. Nina Hoss plays Sharon’s frustration perfectly, especially when it comes to protecting her family.


Cinematographically, the movie is impressive. The early scene at Julliard, in an auditory classroom, which sees a heated debate take place, is filmed in one shot, with the camera moving through the complete room. The minimalistic camera work gives the whole premise a feeling as if watching a biopic. The colour palette makes deliberate use of sterile blacks and whites. Nonetheless, specific scenes could have been cut, or taken out as a whole, because the runtime of two-and-a-half hours is simply too long!


The production design is terrific! The fictitious Berlin orchestra was shot in the Dresden Philharmonic. Wardrobe-wise, costume designer Bina Daigeler was in charge of the lead’s look, creating a masculine modern-day style look for Blanchett to wear, which suits the character.


For a music drama, Tár’s soundtrack is very restrained, nearly non-existent. Hildur Guðnadóttir's score is ghostly, almost an afterthought. The rehearsals on screen are actually conducted by Blanchett herself, while cellist Sophia Kauer also plays Elgar’s Cello Concierto herself.

 

Verdict: Todd Field’s return to directing, is not exactly what I expected. While I understand the raving critiques, I cannot wrap my head around the fact that the academy nominated this feature for best picture, given that it depends so much on the audience's mindset. The screenplay demands painful patience from its audience, as the first hour contains seemingly endless conversations, ostentatious debates, just like elongated scenes that have no impact on the rest of the story. The complete cast is fabulous, with a magnificent Cate Blanchett as the titular character. The cinematography, while adding to the tedious first hour, is jaw-dropping. All in all, Tár, while spectacular on a technical and acting level, is narratively cold, distant plus fails to engage audiences emotionally. There are similar pictures that handled it better, as such I can only give it a 6.5 out of 10.


So, TÁR. What did you think? Do you agree with my review? Leave a comment below to let me know. Thank you for reading!


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