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Each year, there are only a handful of new films released that hold the undeniable power to transfix audiences and enhance common understandings of how stories can be told on screen. “Tár” is one such film. This spectacular project, written and directed by Todd Field, stars Cate Blanchett as the fictional conductor Lydia Tár, who is renowned as one of the greatest musical minds of the twenty-first century. Over the course of the lengthy but beautifully constructed film, viewers witness the slow unraveling of Tár’s meticulously crafted work and psyche by her own famed hands. Thanks to its captivating lead performance, beautiful sound design and cinematography, and unique self-assuredness, “Tár” sets itself apart as a nearly perfect film.
“Tár”’s most obvious and unsurprising strength is Blanchett’s interpretation of the titular character. From the very first scene, Blanchett grabs audiences’ complete attention, speaking in a posh accent, maintaining perfect posture, and exuding the passionate aura of a musical genius. It is in this last effort that Blanchett succeeds to an almost unbelievable degree, as she manages to embody an air of genius throughout the film in a way that feels honest and compelling. Eschewing any sense of the cliché, Blanchett conveys Tár’s brilliance with the utmost subtlety, allowing viewers to catch glimpses of it when she watches younger musicians audition, closes her eyes while playing the piano, and speaks of other composers with religious reverence. Truly, the ease with which Blanchett speaks of music and performers makes the film feel, at times, like a documentary about an actual musical prodigy.
Perhaps more impressive than her ability to capture Tár’s initial composure is Blanchett’s portrayal of the character’s emotional decline. As unsettling truths begin to come to light, Tár’s life of glamour turns instead to one of frenetic paranoia. Like a slowly boiling pot of water, Blanchett gradually reveals the fissures in her character’s cool demeanor in a way that seems true to life and allows for the intensity of the film’s final act to feel all the more delightfully shocking. One particular scene involving an accordion, ugly shouting, and a dead neighbor is simultaneously and unforgettably hilarious, upsetting, and absurd.
Assisting Blanchett in her tour de force is the film’s sonic and visual excellence. As to be expected of a film about a famed classical music composer, “Tár” abounds with booming, arresting moments of orchestral mastery that elevate the film’s mysterious atmosphere in remarkable ways. But perhaps more impressive than these loud and grabbing moments are the myriad of quiet, quotidian sounds like the electrical humming of a refrigerator, ticking of a metronome, or dinging of a doorbell that figure heavily in the film. These sounds fascinatingly trigger Tár’s fear and paranoia more than anything else — an inspired storytelling choice.
Though the film opts visually for rather simple shots and angles, it is the content of the scenes that is most notable. Blanchett moves through lavish European settings, rooms with opulence that is so tangible as to initiate viewers into the high-class world of classical music. While such settings are simply delightful to behold, they also serve the narrative purpose of familiarizing viewers with the high heights of fame and wealth upon which Tár is precariously perched.
Beyond all of its performative and technical achievements, however, “Tár”’s greatest strength lies in its self-assured refusal to explain itself. From very early on in the film, this quality becomes evident as Tár and her colleagues discuss the world of classical music in great and opaque detail, throwing around names and lingo unfamiliar to most audiences. While this trend is initially frustrating, it quickly becomes captivating as the film marches on without ever patronizing viewers and allowing them to feel as though they are immersed in the drama in real-time, free of any editorializing. As such, moments near the film’s ending that use clever editing to pull the rug out from underneath audiences feel truly disorienting and earned, with the final scene a surprisingly humorous stroke of genius.
There is no doubt that ‘Tár” will only grow more popular as a topic of conversation as awards season draws closer, but audiences should not delay in experiencing this film. It is far different from the stuffy, inaccessible caricature of a “serious” film that some imagine when thinking of Oscar-worthy movies. Instead, “Tár” is — at its core — a timely tale of abusing power that manages its ends in the most rewarding ways possible.
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