Director: Todd Field
I knew very little about Tár (2022) when I put the film on. During it's initial limited release, the movie received resounding critical acclaim, but has since had dismal box office. That alone is worth studying - box office can only tell us so much. Maybe it will pick up as a streaming offering. I had actually wanted to see it on the big screen and with better sound, but the runtime and this week's weather made it far easier to just watch at home - so I may be the demographic theaters are panicking about. We're fine with these movies, but we also are okay with waiting a couple of months to just watch them from our couches.
In the end, I'm not sure I'm entirely sold on the movie, regarding Cate Blanchett's as EGOT composer, conductor, writer, etc... Lydia Tár. I'll need to think about it some more.
The film exists squarely in worlds with which I have no familiarity - the world of symphonies, of composition, of Berlin and New York, of the small world of classical music with it's all too rare stars. It should all seem very far away, and at times - it does. This could have been a movie about a writer of books, or a movie star or nearly anything else. But the choice is intentional. This is an alien world, recognized to require excellence just to get in the door. We can't imagine what it takes to excel, how one walks through space when one has been chosen to lead the world's best symphonies. What they do during the day, how all of this works.
That said - the movie doesn't obfuscate what is occurring - and it's a testament to the writing, directing and performances that this world and its arcane (archaic?) rules are so clear. And that system running up against extremely modern concerns and calls for responsibility.
At the end of the day, the film is about the power of position foisted upon you by others, that you've scraped to gather, negotiated and transacted to obtain, and the kind of person who wields that drive and power dangerously. It's a movie absolutely of the moment, but exploring concepts as old as theater.
I don't know exactly how I feel about the film. There's no question - Blanchett deserves the nomination and possibly the Oscar (I expect Yeoh will get it, and that's great). I can see why she wanted the role and why the movie wanted her in the role.
It's odd to watch something about a protagonist who is also the antagonist. This is not a film that asks that you sympathize with the lead, that you like them. Instead, it's recognizing the million cuts by which Lydia Tár lives, a sociopathy that, bit by bit, we're informed of over the course of the film. She wields words like an instrument - she can be subtle, nuanced, handling the people around her with assurances and making her decisions seem reasonable (it's gaslighting in it's own way, if we haven't beaten that term into the dirt). She also isn't afraid to threaten.
The absolute attention to detail in the film is overwhelming, from every look on Blanchett's face - always a calculated expression. Always a performance, playing people and conducting them, whether it's one-on-one conversations of an interview in front of an adoring public. Or whether it's set and light design. Or wardrobe. Or art design and set dressing. And between the script, the slow drip of the conversations, which feel like snatches on their own, but compound and refract against each other...
There's some brilliant stuff in the film, things that, for me, made more sense when I wondered about them after watching the film.
The movie practically opens with the first shoe falling, and so it's a lengthy wait for the next shoe to drop. That's not a criticism, per se, of the film. But these movies work a certain way. We tell these stories to see these characters fall, and if it is not by the end of the first act, then it will be in the third. And in this climate, the movie has the tone of reckoning, a post #MeToo entrant that will champion retribution. Whether the movie is about a woman in a cold war with herself - and I think it is - in some ways the ending seems too... something. It's a wonderful ending, but it's also an unlikely scenario in a movie that feels built on the realities we know are out there, and the interactions we've had.
I don't know how I feel about it. I don't know if I always disagree with Lydia in every instance. And what they put in front of us as the thing that will clearly bring things to a head from early in the film is so big, there are no options for how else you can feel about it. And that's okay, too. That's the sort of thing movies do.
Anyway, I'll sit with this one awhile. I may rewatch it, for Blanchett's outstanding performance (and also for her costar, Nina Hoss, to put it all back together as a single thing when I'm not working to keep up with the complex world they're showing me for the first time. I don't dispute that this is a well-made movie, and I did enjoy it immensely, but I want to know why I felt the ending was so... pat when the rest of the film felt like a chess match.
I suspect I'll have a different opinion next time.