Cinematic Releases: Tár (2022) - Reviewed

Courtesy of Focus Features
In the wake of the MeToo movement, a number of renowned and respected celebrity figures were exposed in the public eye for being physical, psychological and/or sexual abusers.  While the movement continues to send shockwaves throughout the entertainment worlds, one area which didn’t seem to get as much coverage in mainstream media was the world of classical music and operas.  Characters such as conductors James Levine, Daniele Gatti and Charles Dutoit come to mind as far as distinguished indefatigable figures in the orchestral conducting world who were outed from the industry which enabled them to get away with it for so long.  Moreover, where is the line drawn between creative genius and cruel abuses that are perpetrated by someone in a position of power? 

In actor-writer-director Todd Field’s Tár, the filmmaker’s first picture in sixteen years following the powerful debut dramas In the Bedroom and Little Children, Field’s film addresses this very gulf between art and abuse.  Cate Blanchett in her first film with the director plays renowned composer-conductor Lydia Tár, the first chief female conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic.  Tár is maybe the world’s most powerful person in the classical music field, having released several albums and performing throughout the globe.  When she isn’t dressing down students in her music classes, she is fending off accusations from a former pupil who claims she was groomed by Tár into a relationship that exchanged career advancements for sexual favors.  Soon however, as Tár takes on a new Russian pupil named Olga (Sophie Kauer) and her past track record comes back to haunt her.

Like Field’s previous features, the film is sleek, minimalist, drawn out and near silent with next to no music and understated diegetic sound effects.  But as with In the Bedroom, it is a slow dialogue-heavy travelogue with a central character who gradually begins to come undone as their past and present sins slowly catch up with them.  Mostly a one-woman show in a transcendent performance by Cate Blanchett in debatably a career-best performance, Tár initially begins as a study of the creative process of music before segueing into a psychological drama about the point where longstanding systemic abuses in the music world begin to foster themselves it its most dedicated participants.  Moreover, it begs the question of whether or not great art can still be consumed if it is produced by a terrible person.
Aided by ornate widescreen cinematography by Terence Davies collaborator Florian Hoffmeister, Tár is impeccably composed.  With dynamic compositions of the auditoriums, Berlin cityscapes and Tár’s swanky apartment, the world of Tár is almost as classy as the seamster netherworld depicted in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread.  Some of the film’s most striking visuals involve the fictitious Berlin orchestra shot in the Dresden Philharmonie, scoping about the architecture and cleanliness of the auditorium.  Furthering the film’s atonal minimalist sonic expressiveness is Hildur Guðnadóttir’s subtle evocative score which seems to fluctuate between soft ambient sounds and orchestral rumblings in the concert halls. 

A searing slow burn that forces you to question the gulf between art and the artist, the point where the victim becomes a victimizer and carries on that running thread of systemic abuse that continues to either be overlooked or covered up by the industries wanting us to enjoy their commercial offerings.  A portrait of the artist which neither condones her prickly self-serving behaviors nor does it diminish the power of her creations, Tár asks the viewer to reckon with the point where intelligence and skill turns towards unacceptable conduct.  As a viewer who watched (and continues to watch) MeToo unfold throughout the world, Tár forces us to ask ourselves what to do with the conundrum between enjoying art and detesting the artist.  While it doesn’t provide all the answers, Tár is another masterpiece from Todd Field that dares to ask the questions.

--Andrew Kotwicki