This film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival

I’ve seen thousands of films in my life, but none has ever felt as demanding of its audience than writer / director Todd Field‘s “Tár,” an intense, dialogue-heavy exploration of one woman’s self-destruction of her illustrious career and life. It offers a complex psychological study of creative intransigence, the price of fame, abuse of power, and consequences of gross indiscretions, all helmed by a truly brilliant performance from Cate Blanchett.

Lydia Tár (Blanchett) is a talented composer and groundbreaking conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra. She’s at the height of her career, preparing for a book launch and tirelessly rehearsing for a noteworthy live performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. She teaches classes at the prestigious Julliard performing arts school (where she makes waves with her unpleasant and confrontational personality) and causes a rift amongst her orchestra by appointing a pretty young cellist Olga (Sophie Kauer) as first chair. Lydia has ulterior motives for giving Olga the coveted solo, and it’s when her decision is questioned that long-buried accusations of abuse of power and sexual misconduct begin to emerge. This marks the beginning of Lydia’s downfall.

Presented as a biopic but featuring a fictional character, there’s a subversive quality to Field’s story that’s tragic but satisfying, especially when you can feel that Lydia’s life is seconds away from crumbling down. Her total collapse is just around the corner waiting in the wings, all a result of her own doing. She is complicated yet oddly sympathetic, a genius yet utterly reprehensible. It’s a statement on cancel culture and the debate on separating the artist from their art. Why is it that society is sometimes willing to overlook a person’s real life horrific actions in favor of their artistic achievements and contributions?

Field gives a spin to the narrative by making his lead character a sexual predator who is also a lesbian, which encourages a great deal of self-reflection on the part of viewers who are used to the typical story of a man in a position of power behaving badly. The film offers a more sophisticated look at sexual impropriety and abuse of power in terms of gender, and it’s a sophisticated screenplay filled with astute writing and an extremely high-level vocabulary.

This is an art house movie that at first feels exasperating and elitist, especially the early scenes where the characters do very little but name drop important figures in the modern classical music world and reference other professional books, figures, and composition pieces. I had no idea who or what they were talking about, and the film actually made me feel stupid for the first 30 minutes or so. In fact, unless you are a classically trained musician, you’ll probably not understand any of it either. All of these insider references make the film feel off-putting, but it’s worth your time to stick with it, if only for a sardonic ending that reaches perfection and a career-best performance from Blanchett.

Lydia Tár isn’t a likeable person, and the role demands much from the film’s lead actor. Blanchett’s effortless talent is on full display here: she isn’t just acting, she becomes the character. Wholly realistic and believable, her nuanced turn reaches another plane of artistic skill. This is one of the very best performances I have ever seen in a film, period.

Much like its titular character, “Tár” is a difficult film that’s taxing and exhausting, but it a good way. It may be a tough one to tackle, but once you reach the finale, you’ll be glad that you did.

By: Louisa Moore

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