Set in the international world of Western classical music, the film centers on Lydia Tár, widely considered one of the greatest living composer-conductors and the very first female director of a major German orchestra.
Does every artist have a moment when they are asked to be part of the creation of their magnum opus? When you think back through time it certainly feels that way as every artist has one piece of work that people remember them for above all others. Leonardo da Vinci had the Mona Lisa, Pink Floyd had The Dark Side Of The Moon… the list could go on. With that in mind you will have to assume that when future generations look back at the work of actress Cate Blanchett then it will be the film Tar that is considered the pinnacle of her career.
Tar is no ordinary film and Blanchett’s Oscar nomination for her role in the film is no token gesture. In fact I would argue that the nod here is one of the most worthiest Oscar nominations that we have ever seen because Blanchett’s performance here is a once in a lifetime moment.
Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) plays one of the world’s leading orchestral conductors – a woman named Lydia Tar. Tar is recognised worldwide and is a much-celebrated celebrity – when the film begins she is about to embark on an epic journey in her new role as the chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic.
Away from the stage though Tar is a very different person. She is so wrapped up in her world it is questionable whether she would be able to function without her personal assistant, Francesca (Noemie Merlant – Portrait Of A Lady On Fire), and her wife and concert master Sharon (Nina Hoss – Phoenix). Her different persona is revealed even more after a threatening situation with a student at her daughter’s school and her publicly chastising one of her own students at the prestigious Julliard school.
Soon other allegations begin to surface about Tar – mainly rumours circulating that she had a relationship with one of her students and then blacklisted her from every major orchestra after the relationship went sour – the end result was the student taking her own life. Despite those rumours, and Tar passing them off as false she begins a new infatuation with Russian cellist Olga Metkina (newcomer Sophie Kauer) whom she begins to favour.
Cate Blanchett’s performance as Lydia Tar is absolutely phenomenal. She is in just about every scene of the movie, no mean feat given that it is over two and a half hours long, and most of those scenes are long and dialogue driven. At times director/screenwriter Todd Field (Little Children) has made this film look and feel like an epic theatre production and in that environment Blanchett absolutely shines.
Having said that though Tar is not going to be a film that is enjoyed by everybody. If you don’t like artistic dialogue driven films then this isn’t the film for you. In fact it is easy to see why Tar is a film that will divide audiences – some people will find themselves wrapped up the intrigue and suspense Field creates with the screenplay – they will hang on every word delivered by the cast – while others will be sitting there bored out of their mind wondering what they have walked into. This is very much a film where whether it is a masterpiece or a waste of time is very much in the eye of the beholder.
Also important here the messages that it feels Field is trying to make with this film – they too are going to divide audiences. His predator here is female and Tar almost takes on the persona of somebody like a Harvey Weinstein which may lead to some people asking why Field didn’t make the predator a male? That of course is completely up to Field’s creative decision and while the question may be asked it can also be answered by saying that making Tar female brings an element to this film that will surprise most who are watching it… and if he hadn’t then arguably Blanchett wouldn’t have had the opportunity to deliver one of the best performances of her career.
While much deserved praise will be put on Blanchett for her role here it is important not to forget the other cast-members around her because many of them deliver amazing performances as well. Newcomer Sophie Kauer is exceptional as Olga – a character that at times fuels the suspense of the film as you wonder whether or not she has any hidden motives – and then there is the stunning portrayal of Sharon by Nina Hoss who gets to share some pretty intense on-screen moments with Blanchett as their character’s relationship is put to the test.
Tar might not be everybody’s cup of tea but it is a true masterpiece of cinema. The screenplay itself makes this a work of art but Blanchett’s performance carries it over into a space of its own. A remarkable film that deserves to do well at the Oscars.