Review: Tár

Cate blanchett as the title character Lydia Tár conducting an orchestra

I ran off to watch this on an afternoon when I was feeling poorly and annoyed and irritated. I didn’t know it was three hours long. When my ass in the chair told me it had really been more than two hours I checked my phone. So it’s not that it dragged at all. It was riveting in the way that so many biopix of driven people can be. It’s just so delightful to have one of these be about a woman who has complete self-confidence (and with a supporting cast of mostly women, too). And so many flaws: she is not the perfect angelic exception to all the rules, nor is she the downward-spiraling self-sabotaging woman who can never accept her success.

Lydia Tár (La Blanchett) is a terrible person who, knowing all she has struggled to achieve, pulls the ladder up behind her. Meeting to discuss the fellowship program she has built to help advance more women conductors, she says but do we really need to do that anymore? Is she afraid of the competition? Quite possibly. Is she covering her tracks from something that is about to explode? Also possible.

The film on the other hand begins with credits for all the musicians, including the indigenous Peruvian musicians on which she built the backbone of her career. Hildur Guðnadóttir is amazing. Fitting for Tár, who has had a genius for being ahead of the curve which she has exploited it at every turn. Like the fawning interview that begins, setting her up at the peak of success (and of course, destined very soon to fall), she’s done it all, achieved it all — and in the American tradition — done it all herself. From the start we know that’s not true and she’s surrounded by the women who have made it possible, from her beleaguered assistant (Noémie Merlant) and her supportive if somewhat frustrated wife (Nina Hoss) to her new fascination (Sophie Kauer) and even her daughter. Perhaps most of all there is the absence of the previous lover Krista and conducting fellow, who has committed suicide, and the implications of that act that rebound on Lydia.

I’ve read reviews that said none of the relationships were clear and wow, did you watch the film? Merlant conveys all the highs and lows of being Lydia’s sidekick in a glance. Hoss reveals all the sacrifices she has made over the years in a sigh in their (totally weirdly cold) Brutalist flat in Berlin. Admittedly the Vita Sackville-West novel might have been a trifle obscure for many, but the swath of blacklisting emails Lydia demands be deleted is kind of a dead giveaway about how things went.

Or reviews that said the film sneered at #MeToo: indeed Lydia does, but all of her actions show exactly how the power of adulation makes it easy to exploit your position, the people who owe you for the leg up and young people who are dazzled by your fame and power. She is gleefully brutal to the students at Julliard who say they can’t relate to Bach, and says a contemporary composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir‘s is ‘about nothing’ I guess because it’s about nature and not about Christianity? Lydia loves the patriarchy and considers herself a part of it, even saying ‘I am Petra’s father’ when threatening a school bully.

This may all sound like a lot of sturm und drang but there are lots of hilarious moments and some really unsettling ones, too. Even as things start falling apart you don’t know quite what will happen or how far she will fall (the visit home is perfect and succinct), right to the final shot which is just wonderful. She’s a terrible person but she’s magnetic as well — probably anyone Blanchett plays would be but it was fascinating the whole way.

And I love that Blanchett got a music credit for the ‘apartment for sale’ song.