Starring: Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Hauer, Mark Strong
Director: Todd Field
In this fictional character drama, Lydia Tár is one of the most renowned and influential figures in contemporary classical music. A conductor and composer, she becomes one of the many public figures torn down in the court of public opinion following unproven accusations made against her in the press. With a tour-de-force performance by Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, Notes On A Scandal) in the titular role, the film has already garnered a lot of awards attention. So is it any good? Well… No. Absolutely not.
Lydia Tár is the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, which she runs with a ruthless efficiency. Married to the concertmaster, Sharon (Hoss - Phoenix, A Most Wanted Man), she is also known for piling favour on young protégés and giving them big opportunities. Following the suicide of a previous apprentice, Lydia and her assistant (Merlant - Portrait Of A Lady Forget n Fire) must deal with the vicious public fall-out, just as she sets her sights on the new cellist (Hauer).
The hard reality is that most people have probably never encountered anyone like Lydia Tár. Director Todd Field (Little Children, In The Bedroom) has compensated for this in the opening scenes by investing considerable screen time in underlining just how prestigious she is. But though he does succeed, this exposition continues and continues, dragging on for almost an hour before any kind of inciting incident occurs. Subsequently we have a film that wastes a LOT of time feeling like it’s about nothing at all. And when it finally gets the wind in its sails, it skips through key moments and scenes without ever really successfully building tension. As a result, we have an exceptionally long film that is unjustifiably so.
Blanchett is totally absorbed by the part, brilliantly depicting Lydia’s slow decline into mental breakdown. There’s a lot of technical acting skill here, with echoes of Black Swan or Woman On The Verge, but without a concise narrative to back it up. And the irritating thing is there was a lot off dramatic potential to the second act, but instead Field chose to focus more on moments of imagery than on moments that actually advance the story. The result is utterly infuriating. And pedestrian.
Some of the scenes are utterly pointless, serving neither to further character nor plot, while others drag on and on, feeling like Field believed the prestige of his subject would automatically rub off on his film. While Blanchett gives it her all, sharp in a tailored suit, shaking her beleaguered hair with wild abandon in moments of pure musical ecstasy, this is a performance that belongs in a film much more worthy of her talents. Not one that tackles a subject with narrow appeal and somehow manages makes to make classical music even more inaccessible.
This is a film essentially about “cancellation” - and Tár has a lot to say on the topic to a Bipoc pangender student who wants to cancel Bach - and this would have been a stronger film had it stuck to this path. But it doesn’t. Meandering along inconsequential tangents thematically “linked”, it’s a dense and difficult film that most will struggle to sit through. And those who do will be utterly bored.
UK Release: Out now in cinemas, released by Universal Pictures.