Set in the international world of Western classical music, the film centers on Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett), widely considered one of the greatest living composer-conductors and the very first female director of a major German orchestra.
Right off the bat, Cate Blanchett absolutely owns this role. It’s no doubt Blanchett and Tar is gunning for Oscar noms here and it shows. Blanchett carries a la se faire realness in her performance that realness cements itself firm within the soul of the character. An obsessive, controlling genius that isn’t over played or stereotypical. In fact that in a sense encapsulates the whole film. Tar never overstates itself, it plays itself out to the audience and allows the audience to feel and interpret. It’s no wonder to me that this film is somehow both critically Oscar darling and right wing showboat on the dangers of cancel culture.
I should probably quell your fears that this is a propaganda piece taking pot shots at cancel culture. It’s not. Well, maybe for a bit but not entirely. But there is a reason some have extrapolated that meaning from the movie, it is there and much how others are pulling out feminist ideas as well as vague me too symbolism, among many other readings. Is due to what I believe is the true nature of the film. It’s music. Thought the whole film Tar keeps repeating the same thing over and over again, about music making you feel and understanding the music for where it takes you rather than looking at its composers personal life.
In the same way, Tar, the film is playing itself for the audience like a piece of music. It uses clever and precisely chosen camera work, editing, dialogue and music to make you, the audience feel a certain way. I picked this up around half way through the film when I realised everything I thought this movie was kept changing on a dime, one minute it was redemption arch, one minute it was Whiplash, one minute it was thriller, horror, romance. I genuinely felt as if structures of the film were out of sync, as though multiple stories were being told at once. For a large part of the film this is a rather jarring experience, every thread you follow, tonally lead to a brick wall only to have you re-align with the mood the next scenes were playing into. To it’s detriment there feels like there is no cohesive narrative to follow, is someone planning on murdering Tar, is Tar falling in Love, is there redemption on the horizon. The answer to all of them is a big fat maybe, throughout the entire film clues and strategic composition of scenes leave clues and hint towards story paths without actually taking you down any.
For a great deal of all of this the pacing of the film made it all feel about twice as long with nothing to show for itself with no advancement of the plot in any respect. By the time the climax of the film is setting in and the plot of the story starts to unfold, it’s over. It wasn’t until this moment of “Is that it” did I realise what the film was doing. Much like how a composer remarks in the film “Well, didn’t that make you feel triumphant”, Tar turns and asks it’s audience “Well, how did that make you feel?” and it means it. As I said, Tar is like a composed piece of music, it uses the camera shots, the edits, the performances, the dialogue and the sound much how a composer would use the violins, drums and trumpets, to garner and produce feeling. It’s when looking back at the film through this lens that I realised how wonderfully weaved together the different feelings during the course of the film were woven together.
Like a classic operatic piece of music the film guides you along its story not with narrative but with feeling. While Tar’s pacing and lack of conventional narrative leads to yearning that is a detriment to the film, leaving audiences to dig and extrapolate meaning that simply is not there. In many respects, Tar is beautifully put together as a piece of art, on a technical level it’s gorgeous and knows exactly what it is doing as it plays with its audience like a maestro with a stick.