Tár (2020)
Tár (2020)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 38 min.

Release Date: October 28th, 2022 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Todd Field Actors: Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noemie Merlant, Mark Strong, Sophie Kauer, Allan Corduner, Julian Glover

 


 

B

eginning with a standard scene to draw viewers in – here, nothing exciting, yet a tease to introduce a relationship – the film then proceeds to show extensive credits. This is a significant departure from contemporary moviemaking, in which the entire crew and supporting production roles are held off until the very end. It’s actually so unusual (even if purposeful) that viewers might believe the movie accidentally started at the wrong spot.

When the story proper commences, Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) prepares for an interview. She’s currently the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, but her list of accomplishments is exhaustive: she started as a piano performance graduate before attending Harvard, getting a PhD in musicology, landing stints at a number of major orchestras, publishing a book about her own life, founding a fellowship, instructing at Juilliard, and winning the rare EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) ensemble. She’s also one of a very few women to conduct a prestigious orchestra – a point of inspiration to a great many. And soon she’ll be working on a new recording of Mahler’s 5th symphony – something she’s been keen to tackle for awhile.

“Time is the thing.” During the interview, Tár speaks eloquently about conducting, digging into technical specifics that are sure to lose viewers (remaining “in the weeds” – an idiomatic phrase that applies to nearly every line of her dialogue). And she proceeds to engage in conversation after conversation steeped in similar terminologies. When a following scene finds her teaching at Juilliard, it’s very much like sitting in on an actual class – one that is complicated enough that it’s far beyond an introductory lesson; much of this lengthy, single-shot lecture is both fascinating and overwhelming.

The opening act could be described as a duller version of “Whiplash,” establishing a demanding profession that doesn’t tolerate imperfections or allow for many social hours. Lydia tends to be surrounded only by employees, like personal assistant Francesca Lentini (Noemie Merlant), or a business associate like Elliot Kaplan (Mark Strong), a mentor like Andris (Julian Glover), or a fan like Whitney Reese (Sydney Lemmon) – though she does have a girlfriend, Sharon (Nina Hoss), a daughter, Petra (Mila Bogojevic), and a strained relationship with a mysteriously unstable former friend, Krista Taylor (Sylvia Flote). Unlike the fast pace of that aforementioned music-based thriller, this endeavor takes its time for everything; from insignificant interactions (eating or listening or reading or driving or playing music or making tea), the camera lingers unhurriedly, taking in sustained shots of expressions, as if to uncover additional thoughts and dialogue without having to explicitly vocalize them.

Clearly, this film is a single-performance piece, letting Blanchett shine in a hyper-focused role that puts her at the center of virtually every scene; the immersion is total and compelling. It’s no doubt a spectacular turn, but the exhaustive chronicle prevents the star from even waving her conductor’s baton until an hour into the picture. At certain points, it’s as if her life is shot in real-time, moseying along in an apparent effort to capture every routine, whether important or not. With its uncommonly understated qualities, even genuinely dramatic notes carry little impact. Lydia’s life and conduct are just too realistically ordinary and mundane; they’re just not the stuff of cinema, even if the point is to portray such a level of realism.

Rehearsals, auditions, meetings, lunch engagements, and related discussions drag on, filling up a nearly three-hour duration. Minor intrigue, ranging from politics and favoritism and backstabbing within the industry, to little clues about Krista (presenting something of a ghostly horror aside, with blink-and-miss-it chills), pepper the happenings, but it’s difficult not to notice the tedious pacing and just how extraneous certain shots become. Ultimately, Lydia’s career faces the challenges of the slowly unfolding revelations surrounding Krista, as well as the escalating, controversial relationship with a cello soloist (Sophie Kauer), but it’s too late to grab viewers. Even the increasing number of hallucinatory images, bordering on nightmarish or conspiratorial, doesn’t come about quickly enough. Blanchett may be a tour de force (less affecting, perhaps, than in “Blue Jasmine”) in this rather straightforward yet timely rise-and-fall account (the various losses and emotional discomposure are profound, to be sure), but her performance alone can’t invigorate such a colossally uneventful, crawling, seemingly interminable character study.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10