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Throughout the new film written and directed by Todd Field , its title character, a person of exceptionally sensitive hearing and possibly perfect pitch, is almost constantly distracted from her vital activities by extraneous noise. The noises include a doorbell, or something like a doorbell, dinging—our title character, Lydia Tár, almost absently reproduces its two notes on her piano after being ruffled by them—a metronome ticking, people pounding on doors, and more. And the noises are rendered via an audio design that is often disturbingly precise in its directional placement—we are as startled by them as Lydia is.

I was reminded of a recording made in the 1980s by the Dadaist sample-based music group Negativland, in which they bemoaned: “Is there any escape from noise?” In our world, as in the world of this film, as it happens, the answer is "No." Or perhaps “Not entirely.” Lydia Tár’s world—conjured with incredible agility and grace and mystery by Field in his first feature film in 16 years—is one in which the near-impossible escape is attempted via music. Specifically classical music, and more specifically classical music that aspires to sublimity.

Played with fierce and seamless commitment by Cate Blanchett , Lydia Tár is one of the wonders of the classical realm. She is a virtuoso pianist, an earnest ethnomusicologist, and a purposeful popularizer—she is apparently a member of the EGOT club, which isn’t a common achievement for a classical person. And as a protean conductor about to conclude recording a cycle of Mahler symphonies, Lydia needs to get away from noise to do the work to which she almost stridently commits herself.

Is applause noise? In the movie’s opening scene, a nervous Lydia walks out onto the stage of a concert hall to rapturous tribute. She’s not there to perform, but to be interviewed, as a feature of one of those culture festivals major metropolitan centers hold every so often. Her interviewer is New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, who plays himself in a performance possibly lacking in self-awareness—the gleam in his eye as he interviews Lydia is one of an inveterate, serenely self-satisfied know-it-all. The exposition here sets Lydia’s cultural status in a kind of stone, so the viewer looks forward to a film that will show how the sausage, so to speak, is made.

Lydia is a busy person. She has a quiet, glum, efficient assistant named Francesca ( Noémie Merlant ) whom Lydia addresses with less warmth than most humans would apply to Siri or Alexa. Francesca watches from a distance as Lydia, in an advanced conducting seminar at Juilliard, passionately and profanely riffs against aspects of identity culture after one of her students proclaims with flat banal arrogance that as a queer BIPOC they can’t get with Bach, on account of the composer’s patriarchal lifestyle. As she prepares to leave New York for her base in Berlin, where she’ll be recording the last symphony in her Mahler cycle, the Fifth, she lunches with a fellow conductor, Elliot Kaplan ( Mark Strong ), who gossips with her like a peer but who clearly envies her. She tells him of her plans for the Berlin orchestra, including “rotating” an older colleague whose ear isn’t what it used to be.

The conductor also has a pursuer, or maybe more than one pursuer. We see the back of one’s head during the Gopnik interview. We see an iPhone screen recording Lydia and texting snarky comments to someone on the FaceTime call. She is not universally beloved.

Nor is she particularly lovable. On returning home, she upbraids her wife, Sharon ( Nina Hoss ) for keeping too many lights on in their elaborate, in sections bunker-like, Berlin apartment. Is Sharon subsidizing the power utility? There’s some business with Lydia hoarding pills that are supposed to belong to Sharon. The couple has a daughter, Petra; Lydia dotes on the little girl constantly, and late in the movie, as Lydia’s world is flying apart, Sharon (who is also the orchestra’s concertmaster, as it happens) notes that Lydia’s relationship with Petra is the only non-transactional one in her life.

And, in a sense, this is true. As an artist, she is a constant interrogator. This is the means by which she achieves what she considers the only worthwhile end: serving the composer. She has a slightly reactionary aesthetic. While Gopnik introduces her as a champion of female composers, including Julia Wolfe, she disses the Icelandic musician Anna Thorvaldsdottir as a sexy flash-in-the-pan guilty of what Lydia considers the greatest artistic crime, that of vague intentions. (All of the musicians referenced in the film, and there are a lot of them, are real; this is, among other things, a meticulously researched work.)

But as a person, she’s selfish by default and without hesitation. She serves Lydia Tár. And Lydia has a lot of appetites. In Berlin, she is knocked sideways by news of the suicide of a former protégé. And even as she’s trying to cover her tracks in this affair, erasing emails and pressing Francesca to do same, Lydia sets her sights on Olga ( Sophie Kauer ) a promising young cellist, playing games with senior orchestra members to promote the rookie. Who is, as an audition scene takes pains to convey, a superb player. But still. The look Lydia gives Olga at their first lunch is almost literally wolfish.

“TÁR” is that rarest of items: a prestige awards contender that’s also a genuine art film. The narrative unspools in an insinuating, sometimes enigmatic way; Field is quite a distance from the bluntness of his last feature, 2006’s “ Little Children .” Certain shots and sequences show compositional affinities with Stanley Kubrick (for whom Field worked, as an actor, in 1999’s “ Eyes Wide Shut ,” Kubrick’s final film) and Tarkovsky. But the formal virtuosity on display here is in a quieter register than in many other such films. That’s true for the note-perfect acting as well.

Much has already been written about how the film’s narrative draws from emerging stories of abusive and exploitative behavior by powerful people in the arts. Are the sublime aspirations and achievements of a Lydia Tár vitiated by her problem-person behavior, or is she finally In The Right Anyway? As it happens, Field’s film is almost equally skeptical of the culture from which a figure like Tár arose as it is of the contemporary strain in culture that seeks to debunk her. In the end, "TÁR" is not a diatribe or parable, but an interrogation, one that seeks to draw the viewers in, and compel them to consider their own place in the question.  

Opens in New York and Los Angeles on October 7th.

Glenn Kenny

Glenn Kenny

Glenn Kenny was the chief film critic of Premiere magazine for almost half of its existence. He has written for a host of other publications and resides in Brooklyn. Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here .

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TÁR movie poster

Rated R for some language and brief nudity.

158 minutes

Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár

Nina Hoss as Sharon Goodnow

Noémie Merlant as Francesca Lentini

Mark Strong as Eliot Kaplan

Julian Glover as Andris Davis

Allan Corduner as Sebastian Goodnow

Sophie Kauer as Olga Metkina

Sylvia Flote as Krista Taylor

Vincent Riotta as Cory Berg


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‘Tár’ Review: A Maestro Faces the Music

Cate Blanchett stars as a world-famous conductor heading for a fall in Todd Field’s chilly, timely backstage drama.

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By A.O. Scott

Early in “Tár” there is a shot of a Wikipedia entry being edited by unseen hands. Whose hands? That question will turn out to be relevant to the plot, but for the moment it is overwhelmed by the mystique of the page’s subject, who is also the protagonist of Todd Field’s cruelly elegant, elegantly cruel new film.

Her name is Lydia Tár, and in the world Field has imagined — one that exists at an oblique angle to our own — it’s a household name. She is introduced to us by the New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik , humbly playing himself as he interviews Lydia, regally played by Cate Blanchett, on a Manhattan stage. Gopnik’s introductory remarks provide a Wikipedia-style summary with a bit of Talk of the Town filigree, establishing that this is a person who surely needs no introduction.

Lydia’s résumé is a litany of meritocratic glory and upper-middlebrow glitter so lustrous as to verge on satire. She’s a conductor and composer — a maestro — who claims Leonard Bernstein as her mentor and whose career has been a steady ascent through the great orchestras of Cleveland, Boston and New York to her current perch at the Berlin Philharmonic. She has a Harvard Ph.D. and belongs to the highly exclusive EGOT club, having won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. She has recorded all of Mahler’s symphonies but one, which is coming soon, as is a book, “Tár on Tár,” that will surely be a best seller.

How did she do it? If Lydia Tár were a real person, “Tár” might take the conventional musical biopic route, tracing a path from modest beginnings through hard work and lucky breaks, adversity and triumph. That would be a remarkable story, given that in the real world vanishingly few major orchestras have been led by women. (Nathalie Stutzmann, recently installed as musical director of the Atlanta Symphony , is currently the only one in America, as Marin Alsop was until she stepped down from the Baltimore Symphony last year.)

Like “Late Night,” the 2019 movie which cast Emma Thompson as a powerful network television talk-show host, “Tár” doesn’t so much smash a glass ceiling as dissolve it by creative fiat. Lydia’s rise is not what we are here to see. She has been installed at the pinnacle of her profession so that we may witness her fall.

Following Lydia from New York back home to Berlin, Field strews omens and red herrings in her path, slowly and deliberately fostering a mood of dread and paranoia. She receives an anonymous gift — a signed early edition of Vita Sackville-West’s novel “Challenge” — that she destroys in an airplane lavatory. Strange noises at home disrupt her sleep and distract her from her work. A curious visual motif, a maze or mandala, turns up mysteriously in odd places.

‘Tár’: A Timely Backstage Drama

Cate blanchett plays a world-famous conductor who is embroiled in a #metoo drama in the latest film by the director todd field..

Meanwhile, there are hints of domestic and professional trouble. Lydia lives with Sharon (Nina Hoss), the Philharmonic’s first violinist, and their young daughter, Petra (Mila Bogojevic). The couple’s intimacy is edged with wariness and unspoken resentment. Sharon looks perpetually tired. Their child is being bullied in school. The orchestra’s long-serving second conductor (Allan Corduner) has outstayed his welcome. Lydia’s assistant, Francesca (Noémie Merlant), who has musical ambitions of her own, gazes at her boss with adoration, terror and simmering rage. A young Russian cellist, Olga (Sophie Kauer), auditions for a place in the string section, catching Lydia’s attention with her expressive bowing technique and her blue suede boots. (Kauer, a professional cellist as well as an actor, does her own playing in the film.)

Field, whose chilly, psychologically charged style evokes Roman Polanski and Stanley Kubrick — he had a small, memorable role in Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” — records it all with ruthless detachment and fanatical control. He moves smoothly from dry backstage comedy to something like gothic horror. We can’t be sure if Lydia is the monster, the victim, or both.

Cate Blanchett as the conductor and composer Lydia Tár in “Tár,” from the director Todd Field.

Does the suspense that builds through the film’s long, faultlessly executed middle section arise from the dread that something terrible will happen to her, or the premonition that she will do something horrible? Both outcomes are plausible. Early on, we witness her discreet betrayal and casual gaslighting of Sharon, her quiet humiliation of a benefactor and rival conductor (Mark Strong) and her chilling confrontation with Petra’s bully. That scene, in which Lydia introduces herself as “Petra’s father” and threatens a small child in perfect German, is both thrilling and terrifying. Her charisma is overpowering, her power unchecked and her confidence absolute.

That will all change, a process Field observes with almost unbearable objectivity. If he refrains from schadenfreude, he also withholds compassion. While “Tár” unfolds in a rarefied cultural space, where aesthetic perfection seems less an ideal than a daily expectation, it also plants itself in a tawdry and contentious zone of contemporary discourse. Field leaves no doubt that Lydia is a tremendous musician, capable of matching Mahler’s genius with her own, and inspiring others to scale the peaks of greatness in her company. Blanchett is completely convincing in this regard — and also in showing Lydia’s imperiousness, her sadism and her predatory manipulation of younger women like Francesca and Olga.

At one point, Sharon describes all of Lydia’s relationships — except with their daughter — as “transactional.” This is a precise, if somewhat abstract, word for a chaotic, destructive pattern of behavior that Lydia’s position has allowed her to get away with. Her comeuppance is equally chaotic, as “Tár” refuses to resolve itself either into a parable of #MeToo justice or a rant about the excesses of cancel culture. (It’s so committed to its noncommittal stance that it sacrifices a dramatic ending for a ragged, wandering, superfluous denouement.)

Toward the end, Leonard Bernstein shows up, in a wobbly black-and-white video recording of one of his Young People’s Concerts, to explain that the meaning of music lies in “how it makes you feel.” A piece of music, he says, carries you through time on an emotional journey that defies easy summary. Sometimes, the feelings are so complicated and particular that they don’t have names, and “Tár,” whose smooth visual surface is roiled by the passions of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony , Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor and Hildur Gudnadottir’s original score, approaches that condition.

It invites you to think hard about Lydia, about the meaning of her work and the consequences of her actions, about whether she is someone you should admire or revile, about whether artists should be judged by their work or by how they live their lives. In different contexts, Lydia herself argues both sides of that question, as many of us do, and to search the movie for a consistent argument is to miss the point and fall into a category error, misconstruing the extraordinary coup that Field and Blanchett have pulled off. We don’t care about Lydia Tár because she’s an artist; we care about her because she’s art.

Tár Rated R. Violent dissonance. Running time: 2 hours 38 minutes. In theaters.

film reviews of tar

‘Tár’: Cate Blanchett’s Staggering Work of Complicated Genius

By K. Austin Collins

K. Austin Collins

But she needs an image for the cover. Tár’s Mahler run is going to be released as a digital box set by Deutsche-Grammophon, the prestigious label whose album covers are surely among the most iconic, recognizable images in classical music, powerful assertions of musicians — conductors and soloists and small ensembles — as larger-than-life auteurs, with faces and names on par with the legendary composers that they’re playing. The occasion of a career-capping Mahler set calls for a statement piece. Tár’s instinct, in designing that image, is to look to the past. 

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The past is catching up with Tár. Or, more accurately, she’s being subjected to the present: She’s gotten away with things throughout her career that she shouldn’t have. How bad they are, how worthy they are of condemnation, how much Tár deserves what comes to her in this film — these prove subjective. Fields is not in it for the easy schadenfreude, either way. Nor is Blanchett, who, more than anything else at play, is the essence of what makes Tár work. It’s a masterful, full-bodied performance — even her way with the angularity of her face and the camera feels thought-through — and even more impressively, it’s great, delicious fun. Blanchett accomplishes the primary and most immediate task of convincing us that Tár is, indeed, worth all the fuss — that she is a genius of a kind and also the kind of unabashed top that can lead femmes to their emotional peril, that her way of sculpting time through the air with her hands as she conducts has genuine authority, that her insights into music are bone-deep, that she has the wit, intelligence, and importantly, the furtiveness and hard-to-place sexual charisma to draw the flies like honey, to everyone’s severe detriment. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Tár is that it is far more than a mere vehicle for one showboating performance. And even if it were, with a performance like this, who would mind?

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Cate Blanchett in the movie Tar.

“Tár,” Reviewed: Regressive Ideas to Match Regressive Aesthetics

film reviews of tar

By Richard Brody

The conductor James Levine was fired from the Metropolitan Opera in 2018 following accusations that he had sexually abused four men—students of his—three of them when they were teen-agers. The conductor Charles Dutoit resigned his post with London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra that same year after he was accused of sexual assault by several women. (Both men denied the accusations.) In Todd Field’s film “Tár,” starring Cate Blanchett as an orchestra conductor named Lydia Tár, both men are mentioned, by an elderly male retired conductor, as objects of his sympathy. This peripheral character’s remark should hardly be taken for the writer and director’s point of view—except that the drama is centered on accusations of improprieties levied against Lydia and presents her as a victim. The movie scoots rapidly by the accusations that she faces; it blurs the details, eliminates the narratives, merely sketches hearings, leaves crucial events offscreen, and offers a calculated measure of doubt, in order to present her accusers as unhinged and hysterical and the protesters gathered against her as frantic and goofy. Moreover, it depicts her as the victim of another attack, one that is based on blatant falsehoods, but that, in the wake of the other accusations, gains traction in the media.

“Tár” is a regressive film that takes bitter aim at so-called cancel culture and lampoons so-called identity politics. It presents Lydia as an artist who fails to separate her private life from her professional one, who allows her sexual desires and personal relationships to influence her artistic judgment—which is, in turn, confirmed and even improved under that influence. It presents the efforts to expand the world of classical music to become more inclusive, by way of commissioning and presenting new music by a wider range of composers, as somewhere between a self-sacrificing gesture of charity and utterly pointless. It mocks the concept of the blind audition (intended to prevent gatekeeping conductors, musicians, and administrators from making decisions on the basis of appearance). It sneers at the presumption of an orchestra to self-govern (which the one that Lydia unmistakably conducts in the film, the Berlin Philharmonic, does in real life). It derisively portrays a young American conducting student named Max (Zethphan Smith-Gneist), who identifies “as a BIPOC pangender person,” and who says that he can’t take Bach seriously because he was a misogynist. The film looks at any social station and way of life besides the money-padded and the pristinely luxurious as cruddy, filthy, pathetic.

Lydia’s backstory—of a sanitized, résumé-like sort—is dispensed in the movie’s first long scene, a New Yorker -centric one, featuring my colleague Adam Gopnik, as himself, interviewing Lydia on stage for The New Yorker Festival. He introduces her by way of a litany of her achievements: conducting posts with the great orchestras of Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, and New York, a background in ethnomusicology and the music of Indigenous peoples, a repertory that involves commissioning music from female composers and performing it alongside venerable classical works, even an EGOT . As Gopnik recites her bona fides, her assistant, Francesca (Noémie Merlant), who obviously compiled them, silently lip-synchs along offstage.

Lydia is married to Sharon Goodnow (Nina Hoss), the orchestra’s concertmaster, a relationship that began around the time of Lydia’s appointment to the group’s leadership. They live, with their young daughter, Petra (Mila Bogojevic), in a Brutalist apartment of a pristine monumentality (though Lydia keeps her old place, in an old building, to work in). Lydia is the co-founder of a program to mentor aspiring young female conductors. Francesca, one of her former students, works tirelessly as Lydia’s factotum, amanuensis, and personal assistant, in the expectation of becoming her assistant conductor in Berlin. Another former student, Krista Taylor (Sylvia Flote), is seemingly stalking Lydia, who has meanwhile been thwarting Krista’s career by dissuading orchestra administrators from hiring her. There’s the hint that Lydia had had sexual relationships with both Francesca and Krista—but only a hint, and enough calculated vagueness to leave viewers debating in the lobby.

“Tár” is a useful reminder of the connection between regressive ideas and regressive aesthetics. It’s also a useful illustration of the fact that there is no such thing as “the story,” no preëxisting set of events that inherently define a character’s life, rise, or fall. This movie, launching the action with the barest of hints that Krista is the bringer of trouble to paradise, does almost as good a job at effacing the specifics of whatever may have gone on between them as Lydia herself does of deleting Krista’s incriminating e-mails. (One hint of the nature of their relationship is an anonymous gift—a signed copy of Vita Sackville-West’s novel “Challenge,” based on the author’s romantic relationship with a woman who attempts to die by suicide—that Lydia tears and discards.)

The movie takes the point of view of Lydia throughout. She has lived for so long in the world of private jets and private foundations that anything else seems like a dreadful comedown. It identifies so closely with her perspective that it even depicts several of her dreams—yet, despite getting inside her head, Field can’t be bothered to show what she knows of her relationships with two of the key characters in the film; he doesn’t convey what Lydia knows of her ostensible misdeeds, whether with flashbacks, internal monologues, or the details of investigations. The film seems to want it both ways: it sustains Lydia’s perspective regarding music, her professional relationships, and her daily aesthetic, while carefully cultivating ambiguity regarding what Lydia is charged with, in order to wag a finger at characters who rush to judgment on the basis of what’s shown (or, what isn’t). By eliminating the accusations, Field shows which narrative he finds significant enough to put onscreen. By filtering Lydia’s cinematic subjectivity to include disturbing dreams but not disturbing memories, he shows what aspect of her character truly interests him. By allowing her past to be defined by her résumé, he shows that he, too, is wowed by it and has little interest in seeing past it.

This movie about an artist’s life and work is, for the most part, utterly unilluminating about the music on which it’s centered. It delivers a few superficial details regarding Lydia’s effort to interpret the piece at the core of the film, Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, in terms of the composer’s biography. As for new music, Lydia may commission it and conduct it, she may exhort Max to discover the feelings in it, but the movie never shows what Lydia herself does with it or finds in it. The best moments in the film are the few, of a quasi-documentary import, in which Lydia, in rehearsal with the orchestra, exhorts and directs the musicians in fine points of phrasing and other expressive details.

Yet the music itself is filmed with an absence of style. Not a single image of the orchestra at work has a visual melody or a contrapuntal density, and the filming of performance seems borrowed from any DVD of a symphony orchestra. (By contrast, see Edgar Ulmer’s filming of the real-life conductor Leopold Stokowski and the musicians of his orchestra in the 1947 film “ Carnegie Hall .”) The conducting gestures that Lydia makes, her expressions while conducting, are laughable, not because Blanchett’s performance is in any way ridiculous but because Field’s awkward, lumpish images make it appear so. In a climactic scene, in which Lydia gives vent to her largely stifled rage against her perceived persecution, she emerges from the wings of the Berlin Philharmonic’s concert hall to the sound of the opening trumpet call of Mahler’s Fifth, which Field turns into the equivalent of a baseball player’s walk-on music .

The movie is no less obtuse regarding the artistic side of the power plays and the personal relationships that go into the making of music. A young cellist, Olga Metkina (Sophie Kauer), whom Lydia chooses on the basis of attraction to her, in stealthy defiance of the blind audition, turns out to be a gifted musician whose particular talents Lydia pushes to the fore (with a planned performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto). Far from alienating the somewhat bewildered orchestra, Olga soon wins their admiration. Moreover, the prime beneficiary of the accusations against Lydia (significantly, relegated to the gossipy New York Post ) is a conductor of lesser talent, a boardroom-friendly art bureaucrat (and a funder of her mentorship program), Elliot Kaplan (Mark Strong). The one moving aspect of the offstage lives of musicians involves the fear of exposure that queer musicians endured, the deformation of their private lives by the pressure to maintain secrecy, and Lydia’s confession about the career-threatening troubles that she and Sharon endured when they made their relationship public. Yet, at the same time, Field has the chutzpah to liken today’s #MeToo era—in which, one character claims, to be accused is to be considered guilty—to the supposed excesses and false accusations of Germany’s postwar period of de-Nazification.

The careful ambiguities of “Tár” offer a sort of plausible deniability to its relentlessly conservative button-pushing, and its aesthetic is no less regressive, conservative, and narrow. The film is constructed as a series of scenes that cut from one place to another, even jumping ahead just a few minutes or hours, and the characterization of Lydia Tár is similarly disjointed. Blanchett’s performance doesn’t suffice: she incarnates each moment sharply and emphatically but, despite her supremely skillful exertions, Field doesn’t forge dramatic unity. The movie is a slew of illustrated plot points and talking points but, between the shots and the slogans, neither its protagonist nor its world seems to exist at all. “Tár” digests great art, and high-flown talk about it, into a smooth and superficial package. It’s as far from the great art of movies as most movie scores are from a Mahler symphony. ♦

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Imperious hauteur … Cate Blanchett in Tár.

Tár review – Cate Blanchett is perfect lead in delirious, sensual drama

As the maestro heading into crisis in Todd Field’s outrageous tale, Blanchett’s performance pierces like a conductor’s baton through the heart

A second viewing has swept away – with hurricane force – the obtuse worries I had at the Venice film festival about Todd Field’s entirely outrageous, delirious and sensual psychodrama starring Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár, the orchestra conductor starting to unravel and unhinge. I had misgivings then about the climactic element of melodrama – which I now see as a deliberate and brilliant stab of dissonance, brilliantly cueing up the film’s deeply mysterious and surreal final section.

No one but Blanchett could have delivered the imperious hauteur necessary for portraying a great musician heading for a crackup or a creative epiphany. No one but Blanchett has the right way of wearing a two-piece black suit with an open-necked white shirt, the way of shaking her hair loose at moments of abandon, the way of letting her face become a Tutankhamun mask of contempt. Her performance will pierce you like a conductor’s baton through the heart – although the real-life conductor Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, has complained about the apparent parallels between her own life and Tár’s, and there has never been any suggestion of wrongdoing in Alsop’s own career.

Tár is imagined to be principal conductor of a major German orchestra, addressed by colleagues as “maestro”. She is passionate, demanding, autocratic, with a rockstar prestige and an international touring lifestyle approaching that of the super-rich, and is married to her first violinist, played by Nina Hoss, with whom she has a child. But there are problems in Tár’s life. She runs a mentoring scholarship programme for women, administered by a tiresome, oleaginous would-be conductor, played by Mark Strong, and there are rumours that this is a source of young women with whom Tár has affairs. Her assistant, played by Noémie Merlant (another would-be conductor) appears to be someone else she is keeping on an emotional string, and she is being stalked by another former mentee who has become obsessed with her; Tár has furthermore conceived a tendresse for a new cellist. Meanwhile, her guest masterclass at Juilliard goes sour when a young student, identifying as Bipoc pangender, presumes to dismiss Bach on ideological grounds.

But this movie is not about anything as banal as “cancellation”. Tár suspects that there is something wrong: she is twitchy, paranoid and insomniac. We know from the outset that she is effectively being spied on. There are strange sounds, intrusions and things out of place. And the music itself amplifies the violence just beneath the surface. It could be that Field has fallen under the spell of the maestro himself, Austrian director Michael Haneke, with the refrigerated sleekness of the film’s look and the ideas about revenge-surveillance, the return of the repressed and the tyranny and cruelty in the classical music tradition.

Tár has a job in which hubris pretty much comes with the territory. She has invented herself through conducting: no other profession and no other kind of musical career could have worked. My second viewing made me see that part of Tár’s loss of control is due to her intense reaction to Elgar’s Cello Concerto, which she wanted to perform with her protege: the extravagance and the derangement of the music. It resonates with her and with us.

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'whoever holds power, it's going to corrupt them,' says 'tár' director todd field.

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film reviews of tar

Cate Blanchett stars as Lydia Tár in director Todd Field's Tár. Focus Features hide caption

Cate Blanchett stars as Lydia Tár in director Todd Field's Tár.

In the Oscar-nominated film Tár, Cate Blanchett plays a conductor who's risen to the top of the male-dominated world of classical music. Lydia Tár is brilliant and charismatic, but questions have been raised about whether she uses her power to take sexual advantage of young women she is mentoring.

Screenwriter and director Todd Field sees the film as a meditation on the nature of power. "I firmly believe that whoever holds power, it's going to corrupt them," Field says. "That's just an unfortunate fact; we're part animal, sometimes the animal takes over our better angels."

Field initially conceived of Blanchett's character as a businesswoman, but then the studio approached him about making a film about a classical music conductor, and something clicked. Blanchett says the hierarchical nature of the music world made it an ideal setting for the story.

In 'Tár,' a brilliant but manipulative conductor orchestrates everyone around her

Movie Reviews

In 'tár,' a brilliant but manipulative conductor orchestrates everyone around her.

"It was the perfect place to place a character who is incredibly disciplined, who has devoted their life to their passions, and probably, as a result, has become quite inept at life," Blanchett says. "And also somebody who is obsessed with, and thinks that she can control, how she's perceived and how she moves through the world."

In order to prepare for the role, Blanchett watched hours of classical conductors at work, both in rehearsals and in performance. She learned how to play classical pieces on the piano, though Field deliberately obscured her hands when she plays in the film.

"She's still angry at me, because I'm not showing her hands," Field says. "I didn't show her hands because when you go back and you look at, say, Leonard Bernstein ... the camera's [focused on Bernstein's face] not at his hands, because none of us need to prove that he plays the piano. ... I wanted to make it a fact. I didn't want people watching her fingers. I wanted them watching her eyes."

Tár is nominated for six Oscars , including best picture, best actress for Blanchett, and best director and best original screenplay for Field.

Interview highlights

On studying the classical music world to write the screenplay

'Oscar Wars' spotlights bias, blind spots and backstage battles in the Academy

'Oscar Wars' spotlights bias, blind spots and backstage battles in the Academy

Field: My background in classical music is zilch, other than a passing interest, like most people, and having certain favorites. And in this case, I was very, very lucky because, ironically, the world had just locked down, it was the middle of March 2020 and orchestras couldn't play and conductors couldn't conduct. So we were all captive. And, in this case, I was very lucky to be able to have the tutelage of John Mauceri, who had been Leonard Bernstein's assistant, ... who taught at Yale and also, handily, had been the conductor for the LA Phil for movie nights at the Hollywood Bowl. So he had more than a passing acquaintance about moviemaking and wasn't bothered like a lot of people in classical music would be by some hedonist like me asking them a lot of funny questions.

And so I spoke to [Mauceri] for about three weeks. He pointed me in the right directions. He gave me a little mini masterclass. And then I wrote the script. For me, it was never really about classical music. It was about her. And it was about ... how do you look at power and why does power exist? And it's not a uni-directional situation. Nobody holds power alone. There's a complicity in it. And I think we find that in all walks of life.

On learning how to conduct and what it felt like physically

Blanchett: Conducting is a form of alchemy. ... Nothing can prepare you for the charge that moves through you when you get the down beat and the sound happens. Particularly with Mahler, it's magnificent and timeless. ...

Bernstein says that you prepare with an inhalation and the music sounds as exhalation. ... Conducting is a form of deep communication, and you have in your arsenal your fingertips, your hands, your arms, your chest, your facial postures — all of this is a form of communication in order to elicit sound. Also, of course, this is, as Todd said, this is not a film about conducting, nor is it a performance film. You see the music being made, which we made with the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra. It's being made in rehearsal, so I know from many hours on stage, the way you rehearse something is quite a different process from actually then going to perform it. So we see something being found or trying to discover something.

On Tár's relationship to sound

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'my voice should be heard': #metoo and the women of opera.

Blanchett: I think the character is obsessed with sound, and music is one of those things. Our backstory for her [is] she grew up in quite a silent household, and so music was a life raft for her. So in a way, it's not just an academic obsession. It's a kind of a lifelong obsession with sound. So every single sound can set her off. I think a lot of conductors I spoke to, that gift, that heightened awareness of sound, of acoustics, can also be a curse because it means that sounds in everyday life can derail them.

On choosing Mahler's Symphony No. 5 as the centerpiece of the movie

Field: It's almost as if it was written for the film. It has everything. It starts out [with] the funeral march. And the very first thing she does is she tries to put that sort of call of that funeral march further away from herself. She puts it off stage right. And then there's a storm, and then there's a love story. ... It's a very, very theatrical piece that Mahler kind of sits you deeply, deeply in and sort of demands your attention.

On conductor Marin Alsop's statement that she was offended by the film, as a woman, as a conductor and as a lesbian

Field: It's an incredible statement. And I appreciate it. I think that it's a really important conversation to have. It's part of why we made the film. Some people were bound to be offended. I mean, in terms of Marin Alsop, she's a storied trailblazer. She was a first of a very, very still tiny subset of female conductors. She says any relationship to her is superficial. I mean, I'm in the masquerade business, so I wasn't interested in making a public service announcement about the evils of bad conductors or people abusing power in the classical music sphere. This is about a character and it's about the corrupting force of nature. ...

Renowned conductor Marin Alsop's life explored in new documentary

Renowned conductor Marin Alsop's life explored in new documentary

We've spoken to many female conductors at the top of their game that love the film. And they love the film because of the conversations that it inspires. ... I could pick apart what she said, but that's hardly the point and it's really not my place to do that.

On the impact of losing her father at a young age

Blanchett: It was pivotal, monumental, I mean life changing. Children tend to absorb, for better or for worse, traumatic events that happened to them in their childhood and they often don't become articulated or conscious until later in life. ... It changed probably the course of my life. I probably wouldn't be here right now. I probably wouldn't have been an actor. I mean, who knows? ... I certainly ran away from [acting] for a long time because I felt it was such an insecure profession, which, of course it is unstable, uncertain. And I think maybe that's why actors are good at navigating changing landscape because it's such an uncertain profession. But I thought I needed to do something more secure with my life because I'd seen how financially insecure we were as a family as a result of my father's death.

Audio interview produced and edited by: Lauren Krenzel and Susan Nyakundi.

Audio interview adapted to by: Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey.

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Chapters 20

If you are fortunate enough to have a setup that allows for Dolby Atmos or Dolby TrueHD 7.1, Sony's 4K UHD track has outdoor ambiance, cars, waterfall and orchestral-preparation. The robustness of the audio handles the effects with ease exporting keen separations. The music is credited to Hildur Gunadttir ( Chernobyl .) Augmenting the background score are moving classical works - some of it played on the piano by Blanchett including works like Bach's Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: Prludium and Fuge C-Dur, BWV 846 plus Gustav Mahler (daunting Symphony No. 5 ), Edward Elgar, Richard Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Cole Porter and some modern pieces.   There are two optional foreign language DUBs (French and Spanish) and subtitle options including English (SDH), Spanish and French (with foreign languages having very small font - burned in English subtitles) and as with all 4K UHD discs, this Universal package is Region 'Free' ( Blu-ray too!) playable worldwide. 

There are no extras on the 4K UHD or Blu-ray disc. I am unaware of supplements on other editions but mine has nothing but the film. This may be at Field's wishes as his other two films also are bare-bones on disc.

Todd Field's " Tr " was selected 'Best Film of the Year' by many organizations including the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Circle,  London Film Critics' Circle, and the National Society of Film Critics - making it only the fourth film in history named as such from the world's top critics' groups. The other three being L.A. Confidential , Schindlers List and The Social Network . How this film is not a bigger part of the conversation (six snubbed Academy Award nominations including Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Cate Blanchett, Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Achievement in Directing, Best Original Screenplay, Best Achievement in Cinematography and Best Achievement in Film Editing) may have something to do with its more than 2.5 hour length and " Tr "s take on 'cancel culture'. Field has written, directed and produced only three features in over 20-years - including one of my favorite films, In the Bedroom , as well as Little Children that I saw at TIFF (neither have even made in to Blu-ray and the existing DVDs also had no extras.) His three films have been nominated for a combined fourteen Academy Awards. I like A. O. Scott's review of " Tr " at The New York Times : " I'm not sure I've ever seen a movie quite like Tr. Field balances Apollonian restraint with Dionysian frenzy. Tr is meticulously controlled and also scarily wild. Field finds a new way of posing the perennial question about separating the artist from the art, a question that he suggests can only be answered by another question: are you crazy? We don't care about Tr because she's an artist. We care about her because she's art ." Universal's 4K UHD release is 49% OFF at Amazon at the writing if this review. For new adopter cinephiles it is easily considered ' must own ' territory.

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‘Tár’: A utopian portrayal of the classical music world

Todd field’s film paints a clumsy and old-fashioned portrait of conducting, with cate blanchett as the implausible protagonist.

film reviews of tar

“There is NO more obvious expression of power than the performance of a conductor,” Elias Canetti says in his study of phenomena, Crowds and Power (1960). “Every detail of his public behavior throws light on the nature of power. Someone who knew nothing about power could discover all of its attributes, one after another, by careful observation of a conductor.” He then describes how the conductor subdues the music from a standing position while the orchestra sits in front of them, and the audience sits behind. “His hands decree and prohibit [. . .] and since, during the performance, nothing is supposed to exist except this work, for so long is the conductor ruler of the world.”

Canetti was referring to conductor Hermann Scherchen (1891-1966), but his words could just as easily introduce Lydia Tár, the protagonist of Todd Field’s very long and highly acclaimed movie starring Cate Blanchett, who received a best actress nomination for her performance. But Canetti’s beautiful and anachronistic profile, which he develops in the third volume of his memoirs, The Play of the Eyes , has little to do with the vulgar parody of a conductor portrayed in the film. Canetti’s precision in describing Scherchen, based on scant biographical data and accentuating a few character traits such as a hunger for knowledge, a passion for difficulty and an eagerness to control, contrasts with the superficial, egomaniacal, tic-ridden woman depicted at the beginning of Tár .

Field introduces Lydia Tár in an unlikely public conversation with The New Yorker journalist, Adam Gopnik. Gopnik comes over as authentic, but the interview is anything but. Aside from being a leading ethnomusicologist and a multi-award-winning composer who has won the EGOT – the four most important awards in the entertainment industry: the Emmy, the Grammy , the Oscar and the Tony – Lydia Tár has conducted the US’ five greatest symphony orchestras – Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston and New York – and has been at the helm of the Berlin Philharmonic for almost a decade. Needless to say, this is an impossible trajectory for a conductor, be they male, female or extraterrestrial. Then Lydia Tár touches on the composer Gustav Mahler and his Fifth Symphony, whose order of movements continue to cause controversy, but whose “mystery” is no less than that posed by the Sixth. But even the famous dedication of the Fifth to his wife Alma, to which Lydia Tár refers, becomes more mysterious in the Sixth: a musical portrait in F major.

She then comments on a reference to Mahler made by Leonard Bernstein, who was supposedly her teacher. She relates his view of Mahler to Judaism, but forgets the explanations he gave in his famous Norton Lectures at Harvard in which he considers him a kind of prophet who predicted the horrors of the 20th century. Most amusing, however, is her reference to the tempo and duration of Mahler’s famous Adagietto . Lydia Tár rejects Bernstein’s slowness, alluding to the rendition at Robert Kennedy’s funeral, and opts to conduct it much faster. She proposes it last seven minutes, which is faster even than Bruno Walter’s 1947 New York recording. But the tempo we hear in her rehearsal, and which is included on the Deutsche Grammophon CD featuring the film’s soundtrack, is even slower than Bernstein’s.

Much more serious is Lydia Tár’s portrayal of orchestral conducting. Apart from the easy laugh at a student’s expense, Tár speaks of a utopian world where there is no gender issue on the dais. Would it were so, but the reality is quite different. In response to Field’s film, British conductor Emma Warren used an anecdote in an article in The Guardian challenging this view: “Recently, I conducted a concert in a long-sleeved, full-length, loose-fitting dress – not that it should matter what I was wearing – and afterwards was approached by an older audience member, who told me that he liked watching my bum wiggle as I conducted.”

It was just seven years ago that EL PAÍS wrote about the appointment of Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla in Birmingham – who will make her debut next season at Madrid’s Royal Theater – a conductor who embodies a new female archetype on the podium. But the dominant stereotype associated with conducting is male, and the presence of a woman at the helm of a major orchestra is still news. The film Tár does nothing to address this fact if it simply reproduces the worst attributes of the egomaniacal, manipulative, alpha-male conductor in female form.

The deliberate emulation of the male conductor is clear from the start of Tár in a sequence in which Lydia Tár selects the image she is going to assume in her next recording. Among multiple Mahler LP’s lying on the floor, mostly featuring great conductors of the past – the most current being Gustavo Dudamel – she opts for the famous recording of Claudio Abbado conducting Mahler’s Fifth in Berlin.

Lydia Tár’s conducting is stilted and implausible when we see her during rehearsals in front of musicians from the Dresden Philharmonic, who are representing the Berlin Philharmonic in the movie. And the gesture that marks the start of funeral march of the first movement of Mahler’s Fifth, also used as a poster in the film, seems as overacted and superficial as Lydia Tár’s entire character.

Cate Blanchett is not credible as an orchestra conductor at any point during the film. And everything around her merely adds to a distorted image of the profession. Her assistant Francesca as a disciple is not believable, the character of Eliot Kaplan – in reference to the benefactor Gilbert Kaplan – is ridiculous, her veteran predecessor Andris Davis becomes tiresome with his saccharine anecdotes from the past, no conductor has an assistant as old as Sebastian and the relationship she has with her wife and concertmaster, Sharon, is not plausible either. Perhaps the only believable character is the mysterious Olga, played by the Anglo-German cellist, Sophie Kauer. Missing is the presence of the executive director, who manages the relationship of any conductor with an orchestra.

It is clear that the character of Lydia Tár is fictitious. Field tries to make her authentic but the result is a clumsy, old-fashioned portrait of orchestral conducting. There are simply no conductors like her anymore, male or female, however much the history of her downfall feels familiar. The myth of the maestro has been relegated to the past. And, for quite a few years now, major orchestras have been more interested in conductors who motivate and inspire , who come to the job with a mature rather than glamorous approach. This became clear in 2015 when the members of the Berlin Philharmonic chose a complete unknown, named Kirill Petrenko, as their new incumbent.

Nicholas Logie explained this change of mentality, in 2013, in The Role of Leadership in Orchestra Conducting , published by Scholars’ Press. Cristina Simón, meanwhile, is working on a doctoral thesis at La Rioja University, where she applies the theory of transformational leadership to explain the current collaborative relationship between orchestras and conductors. It is precisely this change in the conductor’s leadership style, together with the disappearance of such harmful characters as Lydia Tár, that is allowing us to see more and more women on the dais of the best orchestras in the world.

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‘Tár’ Review: Cate Blanchett Acts With Ferocious Force in Todd Field’s Masterful Drama

The actor creates a study in power, passion, and entitlement in a movie so real it's immersive.

By Owen Gleiberman

Owen Gleiberman

Chief Film Critic

TÁR - Variety Critic's Pick

“Tár,” written and directed by Todd Field , tells the story of a world-famous symphony orchestra conductor played by Cate Blanchett , and let me say right up front: It’s the work of a master filmmaker. That’s not a total surprise. Field has made only two previous films, and the first of them, the domestic revenge drama “In the Bedroom” (2001), was languorous and lacerating — a small, compact indie-world explosion. His second feature, “Little Children” (2006), was, in my opinion, a misfire, though his talent was all over it.

Blanchett, in a performance that’s destined to make her a major presence in this year’s awards season, plays Lydia Tár, one of the most celebrated conductors of her time. The film opens with an enigmatic shot of a text-message exchange, which will gradually pierce us as its meaning comes to light. It then goes into an extended sequence where Lydia is interviewed onstage by Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker (playing himself), which allows us to discover who she is and to revel in the caginess of her cultivated stardom. Lydia, we learn, has been the conductor of the Boston Symphony and the New York Philharmonic (among other prestige posts), and for seven years she has led the Berlin Philharmonic. She’s an EGOT winner, and her mentor was Leonard Bernstein, who pioneered the role of the American conductor as larger-than-life figure. Lydia, like Lenny, possesses powers of articulation that rival her musical skills.

She speaks, with astonishing eloquence and wit, of conducting as the marshalling of time itself, and of how the relationship between Gustav Mahler and his wife, Alma, influenced the composing of his grandly ominous and romantic Symphony No. 5, which she is about to record in Berlin. And Lydia addresses the question of what it means to be a conductor who’s a woman — which, perhaps to our surprise, she treats as a total non-issue (as does the film), explaining that that road was paved long ago, and that she now occupies the privileged position of not having to be defined, by her gender, as some sort of novelty act.

One of the fascinations of “Tár” is its portrait of Lydia as a highbrow paragon who has created herself as a kind of brand. She’s a passionate scholar who lives and breathes the scores she’s conducting. She’s an ardent teacher, who in one exhilarating sequence leads a master class at Juilliard with a whiplash provocation designed to slice through the pieties — about atonal music and identity politics — that, in her opinion, have blunted the students’ sense of possibility. She’s a global celebrity who understands that conducting is a dictatorship, something she enforces within the democratic-socialist protocols that supposedly rule the Berlin orchestra. She’s a technologist of recordings, micromanaging the nuances of how her albums are made (right down to the pose on the cover photos), and an author as well, about to publicize a coffee-table book called “Tár on Tár.” And she is, in effect, a CEO, enmeshed in the office politics of managing the symphony personnel, organizing benefit concerts, constructing a fearsome global reach that’s the cornerstone of her mystique.

Blanchett, with long straight hair that gives off an Annie Liebovitz power vibe, plays her with magnetic shifts of mood, so that we register her lordly smile of dominance, her rhapsodic passion and exactitude on the podium (which is heightened by Lydia’s fluent command of German, the language of her favorite composers), and, through it all, her supreme control-freak manner — the way she guards her idealism with a killer instinct. When she tells an interviewer that conducting The Rite of Spring made her realize any one of us is capable of murder, she’s most definitely speaking for herself. But in that Juilliard class, when she sits down to play the famous Prelude in C Major from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, she explains the music in a way that’s as moving as the music itself. She’s trying to convince one of the students, who rejects Bach because of his old-white-male “misogyny,” that such rejections are puerile. The scene is designed to make us cheer for her defense of art against the slings and arrows of cultural correctness. As it turns out, though, her triumphant rhetoric comes encoded with its own blowback.

In this scene and so many others, Field’s script is dazzling in its conversational flow, its insider dexterity, its perception of how power in the world actually works. He creates such an elaborately enticing portrait of Lydia Tár as a public figure that when she travels back to Berlin and walks into her impossibly luxe designer home, it comes as a slight shock to realize that she also has a personal life. She is married, to the concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic (played by the radiantly sane-tempered Nina Hoss), and they have a young daughter, Petra, who Lydia, amusingly, rescues from a mean-girl situation at school by speaking to the young bully in question with such a perfect terrorist threat (“I am Petra’s father…I am going to get you”) that you realize she can master the politics of any situation. Except for one.

In “Tár,” Todd Field enmeshes us in a tautly unfolding narrative of quiet duplicity, corporate intrigue, and — ultimately — erotic obsession. Yet he does it so organically that for a while you don’t even realize you’re watching a “story.” But that’s what a great story is, right? It doesn’t hit you over the head with telegraphed arcs. It sneaks up on you, the way that life does. Field, working with the cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, has shot “Tár” so that it looks like a documentary directed by Stanley Kubrick (who Field worked with on “Eyes Wide Shut,” back when he was an actor). The compositions are naturalistic in an imposing, ice-cool way, and what they express is the casual calculation with which Lydia monitors every facet of her existence. Her personal life, artistic career, and highly charged, verbally domineering personality are all in such powerful sync that we can’t imagine how anything could upset this apple cart.

Yet there’s one aspect of Lydia’s life that she understandably keeps on the down-low: the women she has flings with on the side. She is, in her way, a not untypical celebrity, treating sexual indulgence as something she has the license to do. In this case, part of the flavor of it emerges from the classical-music world, which has had more than its share of philanderers and predators. The reason for that, Field suggests, is that there’s something about the exalted nature of this music that leads the people who live everyday within its heady majesty to feel as if pleasure, in every realm, is their divine right.

There is also a foreshadowing glimpse, in the audience at the New Yorker interview, of a woman we see only from behind — a redhead named Krista, 25 years old and one of the Accordian fellows, who Lydia enjoyed a brief intense relationship with, until it became clear that Krista was fixated on her in a compulsive and unstable way. Lydia not only cut her loose; she campaigned, in private, against her landing a conducting position with an orchestra. But Krista can’t let go — of Lydia or of her own demons. And this is the wrong era for that to happen in.

“Tár” has been constructed ingeniously, so that the various situations Lydia is dealing with in the orchestra — like her scheme to get rid of Sebastian (Allan Corduner), the old mule of an assistant conductor — interlock in unexpected ways. Lydia cuts Sebastian loose with icy efficiency, but that means Francesca thinks it’s her time to step up and occupy the assistant-conductor slot. Lydia, however, decrees that it’s not the time. And that’s a big mistake. She’s counting on the loyalty of Francesca to get rid of the desperate, telltale email messages Krista has been sending to the two of them. Why the two of them? Because this fling was a lot more sensually complicated than other office flings.

The movie starts off as the chronicle of a magnetic, brilliant, difficult artist navigating a sea of career drama. Then, just like that, it evolves into another kind of movie — a study in what can happen when social media, the death of privacy, and a merciless new public morality conspire to hold someone, in all their flaws (including some rather monstrous ones), up to the light. Lydia rides high, only to confront the rapid spectacle of her downfall. Which is riveting, in a Greek-tragedy-in-the-age-of-YouTube-and-the-New-York-Post sort of way. There’s a moment near the end that rivals the Jackson-Maine-peeing-at-the-Grammys scene in the 2018 “A Star Is Born” for sheer jaw-dropping wowness.

Yet “Tár” also raises a fundamental question, one that will be discussed and debated with singular intensity as the movie gets released in October and then heads into awards season. That question is: Where does the film stand on the issue of what happens to Lydia? I would say that it shows her, very much, to be a predatory soul (and she herself comes face-to-face with that reality in a scene where she tries to get a massage in Thailand). Yet she is also a great artist. You could say, and I would, that the film strikes a note of ambivalence, but in a haunting sense the final judgment offered by “Tár” is not a judgement so much as a statement you can make your own judgment about. The statement is: We’re in a new world. One where people wear masks. And where the power of the sublime no longer holds sway.              

Reviewed at Dolby 88 (Venice Film Festival), Aug. 22, 2022. MPA Rating: R. Running time: 158 MIN.

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‘tár’ review: cate blanchett astounds in todd field’s blistering character study.

The two-time Oscar winner plays a composer-conductor whose reputation is suddenly shattered by revelations of her personal life in this caustic dissection of power dynamics playing in Venice competition.

By David Rooney

David Rooney

Chief Film Critic

Cate Blanchett stars as Lydia Tar in TAR.

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'tár' writer-director-producer todd field looks back at the filming of his best picture-nominated film: "nothing was easy", wolf kasteler partner graehme morphy exits pr firm to become talent manager.

Any review that discusses Tár in depth needs to address those plot points, but in truth this is a film that benefits from knowing as little as possible in advance. That said, the clues to the difficulties for which Blanchett’s character, Lydia Tár, is headed, and the reckless behavior that has landed her there are present almost from the outset. And being aware of where it’s going in no way diminishes the gut-wrenching impact of her fall from grace.

We first observe Lydia waiting in the wings, dressed in a stylishly androgynous black suit and crisp white shirt, her long hair pulled back from her face in chic severity. She does breathing exercises before taking the stage in Manhattan for a New Yorker talk with staff writer Adam Gopnik (playing himself). This provides a brisk bio of her lofty achievements in the field since emerging as a protégée of Leonard Bernstein, culminating with her becoming the first female principal conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2013.

Having broken that glass ceiling while also racking up distinctions as a composer, she claims never to have encountered gender bias. She speaks fondly of the radicalism and joy of Bernstein’s conducting, and clearly shares that passion in her anticipation of the discovery process of rehearsal as she prepares to dig into the mysteries of Mahler’s intentions with No. 5.

Lydia’s time is closely managed by her dutiful assistant, Francesca (Noémie Merlant), an aspiring conductor whom she has mentored. Francesca steers her to a lunch with Eliot Kaplan (Mark Strong), the investor behind her Accordion Conducting Fellowship, designed to provide opportunities for promising young women in the field. A minor conductor himself, Eliot begs for a peek at her score notations. “Do your own thing,” Lydia tells him dismissively. “There’s no glory in being a robot.”

The spikiness of that encounter remains in the air even as they head by private plane back to Berlin, where Lydia lives with her partner, orchestra concertmaster and first violin Sharon (Nina Hoss), and their troubled adopted daughter, Petra (Mila Bogojevic). Lydia still maintains her old apartment, ostensibly to work in peace but also seemingly to keep one foot unattached.

Vague allusions are made to sexual relationships Lydia has had with some of the younger women taken under her wing, likely including Francesca, and to Sharon’s tolerance of them, despite her own anxiety issues.

When Francesca mentions a desperate email from former Accordion fellow Krista (Sylvia Flote), begging to see Lydia, it’s clearly not the first. Developments with Krista, while initially seeming like something Lydia can manage, gradually pierce her painstakingly constructed veneer. The fallout, along with her special attention for gifted Russian cellist Olga (Sophie Kauer), ruptures both her home life and her career. She also makes an enemy of Sebastian (Allan Corduner), the longtime assistant conductor whom she decides to “rotate out” of the position, with Francesca among possible candidates to take his place.

Blanchett is not interested in the kind of concessions that might make us warm to Lydia. But she demands, with ample justification, that we respect this enigmatic, ethically flawed perfectionist, even when her handling of personal matters is highly questionable. In the same way, the musicians revere her despite a manner that often swings more autocratic than the orchestra’s democratic principles.

Watching her thrash her limbs and whip her hair with electric physicality as she conducts (there are visual echoes of Bernstein’s flamboyant style), stopping frequently to pick apart every emphasis and tonality, we witness her consumed by her art, to a degree that at times seems almost sexual. We also get a sense of the hubris that makes her feel elevated by that passion, perhaps rendered untouchable. The ferocious commitment of the performance is even more staggering when the end credits reveal that Blanchett — who studied German and piano for the role — did all her own playing.

The Juilliard scene in which she sits down at the keyboard and walks Max through the surge of feelings that Bach can engender — conveyed through Blanchett’s ecstatically expressive features, as well as her body language — is just one of many bracing insights into the ageless power of the classical canon to connect, emotionally and psychologically.

Blanchett is given invaluable support in the key secondary roles. Merlant registers more strongly than in any film since Portrait of a Lady on Fire . Francesca keeps her cards close to her chest, appearing almost monastic in her dedication to Lydia and perhaps more than a little in love with her. But she’s also savvy and watchful, quietly readying a contingency plan that may be driven by a sense of morality or by resentment over her unfulfilled ambitions. Or both.

Hoss’ Sharon shows the strength that helped Lydia consolidate her position and the backbone required to steer them through their public coming out years earlier as a high-profile lesbian couple in a male-dominated sphere. The tiny flickers of hurt, anger or betrayal that play across her face, alert to every nuance of her partner’s behavior, point painfully to a relationship in which the balance of trust is unequal.

Just as Hoss brings her skills as a violinist to the part, young cellist Sophie Kauer adds authenticity in her impressive first acting role as the rough-edged but preternaturally poised Olga. In fact, casting actual orchestra members through the ranks makes this an illuminating depiction of a rarely examined arts milieu. And having seasoned pros on hand like Corduner, Strong and Julian Glover as Lydia’s predecessor in Berlin makes even the smaller roles incisive.

Tár marks yet another career peak for Blanchett — many are likely to argue her greatest — and a fervent reason to hope it’s not 16 more years before Field gives us another feature. It’s a work of genius.

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Review: Cate Blanchett is at the peak of her powers in ‘Tár,’ a magnificent cinematic symphony

A woman in black tails conducts with a baton in the movie "Tar."

It’s not until an hour into “Tár” that we see the title character — a classical conductor known the world over as Lydia Tár and played by an unimprovable Cate Blanchett — do what she was born to do. It’s an astonishing performance nestled inside another: In one shot, Lydia towers like a colossus over the podium and the camera, her face visible only to the musicians seated off-screen, her arms spread wide as if she were embracing or perhaps possessing the world. Classical music buffs, who will have a particular field day with this movie, will also have sharper observations than mine on the merits of Blanchett’s posture and baton technique. But this actor doesn’t even need to lift a baton, or approach a podium, to make us feel we’re in the presence of a singularly gifted musical body and mind.

A lesser movie — and one of the weird pleasures of “Tár” is that you can’t stop imagining the lesser movie it so easily might have been — would have introduced Lydia in full-blown maestro mode, so as to convince us of her genius at the outset. But writer-director Todd Field takes that genius as a given and trusts we’ll do the same; he respects the intelligence of the audience as surely as he does the magnificence of his star. And that respect is clear from the long, teasing reveal of an opening sequence: an onstage Q&A moderated by New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik (playing himself) that ushers us, with tasteful chuckles and radio-smooth applause, into Lydia’s rarefied cultural sphere.

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Gopnik rattles off an impressively varied (and deftly expository) list of Lydia’s professional accomplishments: not just all the prestigious orchestras she’s conducted but also the honors she’s received as a pianist, a composer, a teacher, an author, a scholar of Peruvian Indigenous music and a rare overachiever whose work straddles music, television, movies and theater. (Yes, she’s an EGOT winner .)

For the record:

11:50 a.m. Oct. 7, 2022 An earlier version of this review incorrectly gave conductor Nadia Boulanger’s name as Natalia.

Lydia, casually resplendent in a simple black suit and open-necked white shirt, takes a moment to register all this praise before gently deflecting it. She describes her love for her heroes like Mahler and Leonard Bernstein, and she positions herself in a small, proud tradition of female conductors, including Nadia Boulanger and Antonia Brico. There’s a ticklish note of meta-pleasure to Blanchett’s performance: She may be playing the role of the conductor with impeccable poise, but so, of course, is Lydia herself.

The ability to perform greatness is itself a key component of greatness, as this pretty great movie knows. So is the illusion of approachability: In her self-deprecating asides and post-Q&A chitchat, Lydia extends the audience-flattering notion that we could even begin to understand what she does. She can describe, with breathtaking precision and self-assurance, the beauty of a composition or the methodology behind her hand movements. But what distinguishes “Tár” from so many good and bad movies about artists is its understanding that what we tidily refer to as genius — call it some elusive distillation of star quality, technical skill, intellectual acumen and pure, nervy instinct — can never truly be known, let alone filmed. It can only really be imagined.

And now Field, bringing a 16-year absence from filmmaking to a well-deserved end, has imagined Lydia’s inner and outer worlds with a clarity and rigor that makes 158 minutes fly by like a dream. If “time is the essential piece of interpretation,” as Lydia claims early on, then this filmmaker’s own mastery of cinematic time is worth singling out. So, for that matter, are the cool, somber precision of Florian Hoffmeister’s images, the fluidity of Monika Willi’s editing and the sleek, luxurious chill of Marco Bittner Rosser’s production design. If there’s a reason this movie flows so absorbingly, even with its decidedly andante pacing, it may be that Field’s storytelling draws no artificial distinction between the big and the small, the important and the mundane; everything we see and hear matters. And because each moment serves at least two purposes — “Tár” is both a superb character study and a highly persuasive piece of world building — you may well find yourself marveling at Field’s economy.

If there’s a governing logic to the story, it’s that in nearly every scene, Lydia is performing, and in every performance, she’ll reveal something she didn’t necessarily intend. That’s true whether she’s having an obligatory drink with a deep-pocketed investor (an oily Mark Strong) or teaching at Juilliard, where she cruelly humiliates a student, Max (Zethphan D. Smith-Gneist), in a virtuoso extended monologue. Lydia’s performing doesn’t end when she leaves New York and returns home to Germany, where she serves as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic — another role she plays with note-perfect skill, captivating her colleagues and underlings with her dry, affable wit and unyielding authority.

Two women embrace in the movie "Tár."

For if Lydia is always performing, then she is also always conducting, ruthlessly directing, coordinating, manipulating and sometimes hushing the people in her life as if they were members of her own personal orchestra. Some of them, like Lydia’s bumbling assistant conductor (Allan Corduner) and aging, long-retired mentor (Julian Glover), are granted a brief, beautifully performed solo.

The most poignant of these comes from Sharon (the superb Nina Hoss), the orchestra’s first-chair violinist and Lydia’s longtime partner, with whom she shares a gorgeously cavernous apartment and a young daughter. Hoss, whose quiet, sympathetic gaze can register even the subtlest shifts in emotional temperature, here sublimates her star persona in much the same way that Sharon represses her own needs. She knows the emotional sacrifices she’s made to live with — and nurture — a celebrity.

That means turning a blind eye to some of Lydia’s less savory secrets, the concealment of which largely falls to an ambitious personal assistant, Francesca (a cunning Noémie Merlant, from “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” ). The details of Lydia’s indiscretions are left ambiguous, but the conclusions we can draw from them are almost banally matter-of-fact. As various lovely young women slip on and off Lydia’s radar — a conducting student she’s abruptly ghosted, a prodigiously talented Russian cellist (Sophie Kauer) — “Tár” becomes a coolly modulated study in the abuse of power and the predatory impulses of the famous and influential, even in an era when emails, Wikipedia entries and TikTok videos carry ever greater threats of public exposure.

Lydia, with her deep reverence for centuries-old musical traditions, is predictably oblivious to these modern technological pitfalls and blindsided by the looming prospect of her own comeuppance. But in other respects, she is an extraordinarily perceptive instrument. Blanchett emphasizes Lydia’s acute sensitivity to sound, whether she’s hushing someone’s nervous physical tic or picking up on eerie disturbances in her apartment late at night. Is someone stalking her and her family, or is her guilt at her past misdeeds finally catching up with her? “Tár” isn’t a horror movie, exactly, but at times its unnerving psychological tension reminded me of the chilly, often Schubert-rich films of Michael Haneke (particularly “The Piano Teacher” ), who likes to lay bare the moral cowardice and guilty desires often lurking beneath lives of upper-middle-class privilege.

Field may not be as exacting a formalist or as rigorous a sadist as Haneke, but as he demonstrated in his previous dramas, “In the Bedroom” and “Little Children,” he has his own flair for jolting his characters out of their complacency. In “Tár,” Lydia is partly undone by her defiance of the shifting cultural winds in the overlapping spheres of music, industry and academia she occupies. As a rare woman and a rare lesbian in a male-dominated profession, she’s undoubtedly a trailblazer, though like so many well-established figureheads, she’s also an ardent defender of the status quo. She sneers at diversity initiatives, downplays gender barriers and insists that identity politics — what she calls “the narcissism of small differences” — have no place in the evaluation of art.

A woman holds a garment bag while in an elevator in the movie "Tár."

“Don’t be so quick to be offended,” she lectures that student, Max, who expresses distaste for the legacies of Bach, Beethoven and other canonized white male composers. And whether you see Lydia as some sort of brave antiwoke crusader or out-of-touch reactionary, Blanchett makes it hard not to savor the ruthlessness — or the dazzling intellectual brio — with which she dismantles Max’s position (all while playing the opening prelude of Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” to boot).

But if “Tár” pokes at a few discourse-friendly thought bubbles like “#MeToo” and “cancel culture” — and drops a few knowing references to disgraced musicians like Plácido Domingo and James Levine — it’s much too smart and slippery to be reduced to them. Rejecting the comforts of moral absolutism and easy outrage, Field holds Lydia Tár the magnificent artist and Lydia Tár the monstrous human being side by side — and insists that the two might, in fact, be inextricably, even symbiotically connected.

Great art thrives, we’re often told, on the transgression of boundaries, moral as well as aesthetic. While Lydia gets called a lot of nasty names, “f—ing bitch” included, it’s telling that her own favorite insult is “robot,” as if a rule-minding automaton, or a human metronome, were the worst thing a person could be. What makes “Tár” so bracingly honest is the extent to which it agrees with her. Its tone, coolly understated but not exactly neutral, leaves room for exasperation and admiration alike. This may be a morality play about a powerful woman’s downfall, but there is something about Field and Blanchett’s refusal to abandon Lydia at her lowest ebb that subverts the usual dramatic apparatus of crime and punishment.

The movie’s ending is both darkly funny and disquietingly ambiguous, not because of any real confusion as to what’s happening but because it refuses to instruct us how we should feel about it. My own awe at Lydia Tár — and as loathsome as she is, I haven’t loved many movie characters more this year — inclines me toward the more optimistic of two possible readings. I also can’t shake the conviction that, the depths of her corruption and cruelty notwithstanding, she bears the unmistakable joint imprint of the two geniuses who breathed her into being. Lydia is and always has been a tirelessly prolific and inventive artist, a giant of the medium that chose her. And she may also, against considerable odds, have a triumphant return up her sleeve.

film reviews of tar

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Rating: R, for some language and brief nudity Running time: 2 hours, 38 minutes Playing: Starts Oct. 7, AMC the Grove, Los Angeles; AMC Century City

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film reviews of tar

Justin Chang has been a film critic for the Los Angeles Times since 2016. He is the author of the book “FilmCraft: Editing” and serves as chair of the National Society of Film Critics and secretary of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.

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Johnny Oleksinski

‘tár’ review: cate blanchett guns for an oscar with a seismic role, social links for johnny oleksinski.

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A funny thing about writer-director Todd Field’s phenomenal film about a world-renowned conductor, “Tár,” is that in the lead-up to its premiere, a popular Google search was “Who is Lydia Tár?”

She’s not real. But audiences have been so conditioned to expect probing musician biopics every fall that many assumed “Tár” was yet another; an upper-crust “ Bohemian Rhapsody ” about a celebrated maestro we would all be more familiar with if we had the time and money to regularly attend the Berliner Philharmoniker and skim Der Spiegel. Nein ! She’s fake.

Running time: 158 minutes. Rated R (some language and brief nudity). In theaters.

Field’s extraordinarily detailed, start-to-finish exhilarating “Tár,” however, might convince you otherwise by the end. 

Honestly, I fully believed she existed after about five minutes, when Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) — the world’s most celebrated conductor — sits down for a ticketed New Yorker talk in Manhattan. The mood, questions and answers are a mirror image of how those pretentious subscriber events really are. It’s spooky.

In an assuredly deep voice, like that of Elizabeth Holmes, Tár discusses the influence of her mentor Leonard Bernstein (who was, of course, real) and her five years spent studying in Africa; she poetically explains the importance of time on conducting a piece of music. The scene borders on satirical, but those pinky-out affairs always do.

Cate Blanchett is masterful as a famous conductor in "Tar."

And the layers never let up. Field relishes in specifics: boardrooms, blind auditions, Juilliard master classes, Le Bernardin lunches with donors, emails to conductors Riccardo Muti and Gustavo Dudamel. Rather than reality becoming banal, however, the film spins a terrifying and claustrophobic web.

“Tár” is not a slice-of-life story about the classical music world, but a thriller rooted in reality about how steep and crushing the fall can be for culture figures we’ve turned into golden gods. One day you’re on posters at the airport, the next you vanish.

At her height, she’s a celebrity as principal conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker and lives in Germany with her wife, Sharon (Nina Hoss), the orchestra’s first-chair violinist, and little daughter. Lydia’s home life, though, is a dish of spinach she pushes off to the side in favor of losing herself to music and doing whatever it takes, with Shakespearean gusto, to retain power. Tár is a supremely gifted monster.

Lydia Tar (Cate Blanchett) leads the Berliner Philharmoniker.

The people around the conductor — her wife, assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) and Berlin predecessor — are both loves and leeches. They protect her and use her at the same time. After reading the manuscript of her memoir “Tár on Tár” (hilarious), a retired musician hands her a beautiful card praising it. She emotionally thanks him, and he clarifies, “It’s a quote for the book jacket.” 

As past failings come to light, and her carefully maintained shield begins to crumble, Tár spirals into paranoia and Field’s tell-tale movie closes in on us, too. Wisely taking morality out of the plot, the director never lets us see first-hand her indiscretions that have been whispered about (you can probably guess what they are) or even confirms them, and he doesn’t judge her one way or another. We spend the entire film in her head.

Tar's life spirals into paranoia.

Blanchett, a shoo-in for Best Actress unless Michelle Williams hires a hitman, excels in hypnotic-eyed parts like Tár (see: “Blue Jasmine” and “Carol”). Too often in the past, though, the actress has been subsumed by her own ethereal aura, leaning on freaky stares and that Galadriel voice to stir us up. This is much deeper work from her with an absorbing peaks-and-valleys journey and honest emotion. The match of larger-than-life actress to larger-than-life role is perfection.

The actress may be just 53, but Tár is already Blanchett’s Lear.

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Tár review: Cate Blanchett is at her best in a nuanced take on #MeToo and cancel culture

Todd field’s film is essentially about the whirlpools of discourse around #metoo and ‘cancel culture’, but rarely in a way that feels like a polemic, article bookmarked.

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Cate Blanchett swallows Tár whole and spits out bullets in return. The role, of a fictional classical conductor somersaulting into her own downfall, was written by director Todd Field solely with her in mind. It’s a performance that functions as a total culmination, the crystallised form of all the women Blanchett’s played in the past – from Elizabeth I to Lilith in Nightmare Alley – who act like they have total control but may actually be hollow on the inside. Sometimes, all that’s needed is a single shot of those ice-blue eyes. A little tension in the muscles and they take on a self-satisfied feeling of mastery over their subject.

It’s not required that we sympathise with Blanchett’s Lydia Tàr. Her talent is plain – she’s a protégée of Leonard Bernstein and is one of the few winners of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award – but she’s also cruel, manipulative, and abusive. She belittles and dismisses her own assistant (Noémie Merlant), simply because she’s grown bored of her. Slowly, allegations of misconduct start to surface, and her rivals (including Mark Strong’s amateur conductor Eliot Kaplan) leap into self-serving action.

Tár is essentially about our current moment, and all the whirlpools of discourse around #MeToo and “cancel culture”, but rarely in a way that feels like a polemic or a pat on the back. It answers the question of “should we separate the art from the artist?” by laying bare how impossible a demand that is.

Field, certainly, does pull his punches at several key junctures. The allegations that come to light never materially exist beyond a one-sentence newspaper clipping, a suggestion that Lydia has “enticed and groomed young women” in her orchestra – a phrase too vague to pin down the severity of her actions. She exists then only as a symbolic vessel for what is bad and powerful, severed from her own sins. Would there already be so many Tár memes on the internet if Field had chosen to depict exactly where her obsessive interest in fledgling cellist Olga (Sophie Kauer) would have ended up if karmic retribution had never intervened?

Secondly, Lydia, while guest-lecturing at Julliard, takes up arms against a student (Zethphan Smith-Gneist) who despises Bach for his “misogyny”. But they’re given a parodically weak and entirely fantastical grudge against the great composer (supposedly based on the fact he fathered so many children?), purely so Lydia can heroically discard them as a brainwashed devotee of social media. The film would never dare lock horns with the real case against the classical canon.


But Lydia herself is so compellingly constructed, a perfect synthesis of hypocrisy and denial, that Field’s shortcuts never cost the film much of its nuance. She’s known for commissioning work by female composers like Hildur Guðnadóttir (who, in a meta turn, composed Tár’s own dread-filled score), but wears her own success as proof that the bias against women is dead and gone. She bemoans “cancel culture”, but has forced the blacklisting of a former mentee to conceal evidence of her misdeeds. She prizes talent but undermines it in others. And within the cold, brutalist spaces of production designer Marco Bittner Rosser, there’s little escape from the full force of her undoing, either for the audience or for those in Lydia’s own orbit.

It’s striking that Field chooses to split his film’s credits. Tár opens with all those who work behind the scenes, who rarely receive a taste of fervent adulation – the gaffers, the assistants, the location scouts – and ends with the actors and musicians who sit atop the pyramid. Lydia may refuse to see it, but Tár reminds us that genius never lives alone.

Dir: Todd Field. Starring: Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, Julian Glover, Allan Corduner, Mark Strong. 15, 158 minutes

‘Tár’ is in cinemas from 13 January

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TÁR Is the First Fall Movie You Really Have to See

By Taylor Antrim

It’s been a strange, half-hearted year for movies, but things are about to get interesting . A high-minded slate of serious awards-season films is coming and opening only in theaters (or in theaters and then on Netflix), and there are quite a few that are powerful, provocative, wonderfully strange, or altogether worth venturing out to see.

All of those descriptions apply to TÁR , opening today in limited theaters, and it’s a barn burner, an art-house provocation with a megastar at its center in Cate Blanchett. I staggered out of TÁR —which is writer-director Todd Field’s third film and his first in 16 years—bludgeoned by its power, its aesthetic precision, its storytelling authority, and, yes, the running time (158 minutes). It’s a tour de force in many respects, especially on a big screen with theatrical sound, and a galvanizing reason to wholly submit yourself to movies again.

Be warned: TÁR is suspenseful and gripping but also proudly erudite—the kind of movie that opens with an extended sequence at The New Yorker Festival. The scene is a public conversation between the conductor Lydia Tár (Blanchett) and the writer Adam Gopnik (playing himself), and Blanchett establishes her character’s regal bearing as Gopnik summarizes her bona fides: every major achievement in the classical-music world, a brace of awards, and a major forthcoming autobiography, Tár on Tár . She’s a dominating public figure who leads the Berlin Philharmonic and is readying a career-pinnacle performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. Blanchett is implacable in the face of the applause, the praise. She’s a genius, and she knows it, terrifyingly self-assured.

And so begins a movie about creative brilliance and monstrous behavior existing side by side, a story that makes you think of #MeToo and cancel culture but doesn’t tell you what to feel about either of those things. Tár is in a long-term relationship with the lead violinist of her orchestra, Sharon (played by Nina Hoss), and they live with their young adopted daughter, Petra (Mila Bogojevic), in a dreamily brutalist Berlin apartment. The existence is one of exquisite, chilly luxury, but Tár’s life is unraveling fast, thanks mostly to her sexual compulsions, which we come to know about through deft storytelling strokes: her worshipful, wounded assistant, Francesca (Noémie Merlant), acts like a spurned lover; a veiled, threatening gift arrives out of the blue; and when a young Russian cellist appears to audition for her orchestra, Tár is helplessly rapt.

Blanchett is in every scene of this movie, and she’s formidable. Just give her the Oscar: This is acting as a display of power—Blanchett trained as a conductor for the role, as a pianist, learned to speak German, and even (according to press notes) practiced driving at a racetrack for one sequence where she’s behind the wheel. She gives Tár so many dimensions—of cruelty, vulnerability, helplessness—that you never know exactly how to feel about her. A duel with a Juilliard student about the merits of Bach (one more dead, white male) has quicksilver intelligence; she obliterates him with her arguments, but her arrogance is on display too. Eventually, comeuppance is due, and the film delivers it. The denouement is maybe hurried for such a methodically controlled film, but it haunts you too—and is devoid of moralizing.

Go see it, and bring a date: TÁR is a movie that defies easy judgments and prompts conversation. Remember when more movies did that?

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‘Tár’: A seductive deep dive into a woman’s unraveling psyche

Cate blanchett has created the most indelible movie character this year.

film reviews of tar

Behold Lydia Tár: lithe and silkily glamorous as a Saluki , an intricately coiled helix of genius, nervous tics, elegant taste and steely nerve. Watching Cate Blanchett inhabit the most indelible character to materialize on-screen this year is to witness a fascinating feat of artistic doubling, wherein Blanchett brings her angular physicality and a quick, slashing intelligence to bear on a woman who’s creating herself in real time. “Tár,” the film that wraps around its mesmerizing antiheroine like a fawn-colored cashmere wrap, is less a movie than a seductive deep dive into an unraveling psyche of a woman who’s simultaneously defined by and apart from the world she has so confidently by the tail.

That world, in Lydia’s case, is classical music, a rarefied universe of transcendence and transaction that comes to hushed, high-stakes life in the hands of writer-director Todd Field. We meet Lydia — a renowned composer-conductor who was the protegee of Leonard Bernstein, who bestrides the Berlin Philharmonic like a sleek colossus and who has just written her memoir “Tár on Tár” — while she’s being interviewed at the New Yorker festival by the magazine’s culture writer Adam Gopnik . In an almost surreally long, real-time sequence, Gopnik (playing himself) tosses out learned questions that Lydia parries with casual brilliance, dissecting art, time, gendered language and the correct interpretation of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony with erudite, offhand brio. With that single scene, Field conveys volumes of information about his protagonist, but also his bona fides as a first-class world builder: This is an environment he understands down to the last meticulously placed name-drop of Marin Alsop or Nan Talese .

Q&Q with Cate Blanchett and Todd Field

It’s also an environment that, for its outward veneer of cosmopolitan civility, roils with political scheming, sexual power plays and brazen ambition. As Lydia goes about her days — meeting with a dilettante-ish patron (Mark Strong), being interviewed by a star-struck journalist, leading a master class at Juilliard — her facade never cracks. She oversees the tailoring of her suits — copied from those worn by her male heroes — with the same ferocious perfectionism and withering contempt for complacency that she brings to the vinyl pressings she’s making for Deutsche Grammophon .

Lydia is so impressively competent, the social space she moves in so stylish and discrete, that it has no option but to come crashing down. “Tár” is an anatomy of that inevitable descent, prompted by an email to Lydia’s assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) from a former student that metastasizes into a personal and professional crisis of operatic proportions. Whether she’s mentoring younger musicians, “reading the tea leaves” or a composer’s emotional intent, or visiting eastern Peru to make field recordings, it turns out that Lydia’s business is essentially extractive.

Appropriately enough, Field’s script possesses its own musicality: He creates rapturous curlicues of heady dialogue that on its surface explores the nuances of post-#MeToo standards of workplace behavior and what has come to be known as cancel culture. Those thematic elements give “Tár” its frissons of resonance and ambiguity, with Lydia making a persuasive case for separating art from the artist. At Juilliard, she admits that as a “ U-Haul lesbian ,” she has little use for “ol’ Ludwig.” (The fundamental question, she insists, is, “Can music by old white men exalt us?”) When she’s finally confronted with her own infractions, what were abstract arguments become increasingly germane, and it becomes clear that what we think we’re watching — an illustrious career brought low by bad behavior, the twist being that the malefactor is a woman — is something else entirely.

That something is more interior, more chaotic and in many ways more disturbing, and it’s exquisitely limned by Field, who doles out information with tensely judicious restraint. No sooner are we ensconced in the soothing world that Lydia edgily inhabits than we discover that all those nervous twitches and superstitions aren’t the mannerisms of an egocentric artist. They’re talismans, deployed to fend off disorder and a creeping dread that, when it arrives, overmatches even Lydia’s lacerating ego and icy self-control.

This makes “Tár” sound grim, which it isn’t. Field has made a film about exploitation and self-loathing and compulsion, but with an extravagant eye for beauty and surface polish that makes it deeply pleasurable to watch. It would be enjoyable enough simply to behold Blanchett have her way with a role that she slips on with the grace and familiarity of one of Lydia’s bespoke suits. But Field has surrounded her with supporting performances that are just as alert, especially Nina Hoss’s turn as Sharon, Lydia’s patient but reflexively wary partner. Together with cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, Field films “Tár” in reassuring neutrals, his palette favoring soft grays and understated beiges. Much of the film plays out in silence — the musical score is composed by Hildur Gudnadóttir , who’s also name-checked by Lydia — a choice that emphasizes Lydia’s own hypersensitivity to the ambient sounds that constantly threaten to engulf her.

Then there’s the humor, which is so sly that it seems to operate on a frequency all its own. That Nan Talese line, for example, is both tonally perfect and hilarious, as are tossed-off asides about Clara Zetkin , NPR and the fact that Lydia’s dazzled young interviewer went to Smith. Late in the film, when a neighbor stops by Lydia’s studio to complain about the noise she’s making, she initially misunderstands, flashing a camera-ready smile and enthusing with fake modesty, “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

By far “Tár’s” best joke is saved for last, when Field speeds up the metronome and sends Lydia on a dizzying spiral that takes her far from Berlin, in a place where personal, professional and aesthetic reckoning land like a dissonant chord. The moral of the story seems simple enough: Keep it in your pants, boys and girls, lest you wind up in what could easily pass for sheer hell.

R. At area theaters. Contains some strong language and brief nudity. 153 minutes.

Tár movie review: the bleakest and funniest film about systemic sleaze since Promising Young Woman

The team behind this nuanced film deserve to win big at all the glitzy awards this season

ate Blanchett, always a high achiever, outdoes herself in this award-winning film about an award-winning conductor, a lesbian maestro whose sneakily abusive (and viciously petty, hypocritical and egocentric) behaviour makes her a target for the #MeToo movement. Blanchett and the team (writer-director Todd Field and countless others, unexpectedly credited at the beginning of the film, in a clear attempt to signal that this is a group effort, and leave space at the end for the even longer music credits) deserve to win big at all the glitzy ceremonies to come.

The fact that Lydia Tár is fuelled by lust, and has a smitten PA played by Portrait of a Lady on Fire ’s Noémie Merlant, will lead some viewers to anticipate a movie packed with hot sex. All we see is a frazzled kiss between Tár and her long-suffering German wife, Sharon (Nina Hoss). Field’s not interested in screwing. He’s interested in how Tár’s ugly need to be on top screws up her brilliant career. The film’s subtitle could be Portrait of a Lady Who Gets Fired.

It’s hard to boil down Tár’s plot, let alone its themes. There’s a lot going on and many of the facts presented by self-mythologising Lydia are fictions, especially where Leonard Bernstein and her very own name are concerned (quick translation: Lydia’s a liar). But let’s try.

Tár, the first female chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, is preparing to release a new recording (of Mahler’s 5 th Symphony), a new book (Tár on Tár), and a new composition (“For Petra”, dedicated to her and Sharon’s adopted daughter). Everything this woman does is done at full throttle and that includes “protecting” Petra (Lydia all but duffs up the kid who’s been bullying her daughter at school), guzzling Sharon’s meds, making mincemeat of sensitive Gen-Z students, grooming cute young Russian cellist (spry newcomer Sophie Kauer ) and scheming to destroy the job prospects of Krista Taylor who, we gradually realise, is the last girl who caught Tár’s eye.

This is the bleakest and funniest film about systemic sleaze since Promising Young Woman. Both movies involve a suicide, but keep the victim off-screen, and both serve up a volatile and gifted central female character who loves the sound of her own voice. Promising Young Woman’s Cassie is hunting a predator; Lydia is the predator (though, just to be clear, she’s no rapist). Both women, albeit to different degrees, are made to seem worthy of respect. The misuse of power, which so many of the films’ characters collude in, is what’s entirely repulsive.

Marin Alsop, a real-life, female conductor name-checked in the film, recently described the project as “Anti-Woman”. I don’t agree. I think it’s pro-nuance and we’ll all benefit from the civilised debates/screaming rows it stirs up.

157mins, cert 15

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Cate Blanchett in Tr

Music at the Oscars: The Genius of  Tár , the Absurdity of  Elvis , and David Byrne’s Favorite Film Scores

By Pitchfork

Co-hosted by Editor-in-Chief  Puja Patel and Reviews Director  Jeremy D. Larson , our  weekly podcast includes in-depth analysis of what’s great (and terrible) in the world of music. This week, Features Editor  Jill Mapes , who recently wrote  a story on the state of music movies , pops by to discuss two notable contenders vying for gold at this Sunday’s Oscar ceremony: The psychological drama  Tár and the shamelessly over-the-top biopic  Elvis . Topics include the brilliance of Cate Blanchett’s ruthless conductor Lydia Tár, the goofiness of Tom Hanks’ Col. Tom Parker, and who we’re rooting for in this year’s music categories. 

And stay tuned to the end of the episode, where  David Byrne and  Son Lux ’s Ryan Lott—who are nominated for Best Song for their  Everything Everywhere All at Once collaboration with Mitski, “ This Is a Life ”—talk about some of their favorite film scores.

Listen to this week’s episode below, and follow  The Pitchfork Review   here . You can also check out an excerpt of the podcast’s transcript below. 

Jeremy D. Larson:  Did you leave  Elvis more connected to Elvis’ music?

Jill Mapes:  I mean, no. But part of what’s really interesting about the boom of biopics in the last few years is that they seem at least partially motivated by catalog and the fact that there are these companies buying up the publishing rights to classic artists and songs. Like the Queen biopic  Bohemian Rhapsody is something that felt very motivated by this huge catalog—and it was also done very hackily. So what’s really funny about the  Elvis soundtrack is like: Why are all these contemporary people spending their time making Elvis mega mixes? It’s supposed to renew musical interest in Elvis’ catalog, but I can’t imagine it doing that at all. 

Puja Patel:  It is interesting that the soundtrack of contemporary music blended in enough into the chaos of this movie, that it’s both seamless and forgettable, but also didn’t stand out in a way that was so jarring that I can remember it. 

Larson:  I was distracted by “Hound Dog” going into Doja Cat. That ripped me directly out of this movie. 

Patel:  Jill, was there a musical performance on the soundtrack that you liked? 

Mapes:  One of the things that was a little bit more classy and in line with the sonics of the original was Kacey Musgraves covering “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which felt pretty faithful to the era.

Patel:  So  Elvis is up for eight awards. What do we think they’re going to win? 

Mapes:  Austin Butler, Best Actor. 

Larson:  For sure.

Mapes:  I hope that’s all it wins, respectfully. 

Larson:  I am nervous it’s going to win Best Picture. I just need you to be prepared for it. 

Patel:  I don’t think it’s going to happen, but I worry that it will win Best Editing. 

Mapes:  Oh, but it’s so—it gives you a headache. 


By Jazz Monroe

Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey

By Evan Minsker

Sam Smith performs during the BRIT Awards

By Matthew Ismael Ruiz


Tar Image

By Chris Salce | October 2, 2020

Tar  is about the Greenwoods, who have just lost their family business, and their office building is going to be demolished for a new subway system. A somber night of packing up turns into a menacing game of survival for the Greenwoods, and other office employees, when construction awakens an ancient creature lurking under the La Brea Tar Pit.

Barry Greenwood (Timothy Bottoms) is the owner of a family business and is losing it all. His relationship with his son Zach (Aaron Wolf) isn’t the best, and losing the company isn’t helping a thing, other than giving them time apart. The night of the eviction, Barry, Zach, and others are all packed up and ready to move on… but something won’t let them go so easily. The building loses all power, then each of the office employees begins to feel that something is after them.

film reviews of tar

“…construction  awakens an ancient creature  lurking under the La Brea Tar Pit.”

Aaron Wolf does some good and not so good things with  Tar . Let’s state the positives first. I liked that this film is loosely based on Native American folklore as it describes how they would use tar as an adhesive with their canoes and other handmade items. It is explained that they would go to the tar pit until some of them were found dead there. The natives forbid anyone from going to the pits at night because they feared it’s evil spirit. Since then, the only one not to be covered by skyscraping buildings is the La Brea Tar Pit, which helps the story’s setting make sense because of its history.

Where there are monsters, there is often death that follows, and the deaths in  Tar  are quite gruesome. The deaths range from faces being ripped off to stomaches being skewed. What is also a great thing about the monster is that it is mostly done with practical effects – something that is missing in modern horror films.

Directed: Aaron Wolf

Written: Tim Nuttall

Starring: Timothy Bottoms, Aaron Wolf, Emily Peachey, Max Perlich, Graham Greene, Nicole Alexandra Shipley, etc.

Movie score: 5.5/10

Tar Image

"…simply a film having fun with a legend."

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2020, Horror/Mystery & thriller, 1h 36m

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  1. TÁR movie review & film summary (2022)

    Lydia Tár's world—conjured with incredible agility and grace and mystery by Field in his first feature film in 16 years—is one in which the near-impossible escape is attempted via music. Specifically classical music, and more specifically classical music that aspires to sublimity.

  2. 'Tár' Review: A Maestro Faces the Music

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    The first real scene of Tár is a charismatic and revealing interview with the writer Adam Gopnik, on the stage of the annual New Yorker festival. Cut into that scene, appearing wordlessly onscreen...

  5. "Tár," Reviewed: Regressive Ideas to Match Regressive Aesthetics

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  8. 'Tár' review: Cate Blanchett stars a manipulative classical conductor : NPR

    Cate Blanchett Finds Humor In The Painfully Absurd The writer-director Todd Field has a masterful understanding of time himself. Tár runs more than 2 1/2 hours, but I found it mesmerizing — not...

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  11. 'Tár': A utopian portrayal of the classical music world

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    Rather than reality becoming banal, however, the film spins a terrifying and claustrophobic web. "Tár" is not a slice-of-life story about the classical music world, but a thriller rooted in...

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