Download: NYFF Review: TÁR
When one thinks of the greatest directors with the shortest filmographies, Todd Field should immediately spring to mind. With time and age on their side, In the Bedroom and Little Children stick out as two of the most emotionally precise and affecting character dramas of the 2000s. 16 years was far too long to wait for Field’s next feature, but it’s finally here, and it’s great.
In its opening scene, TÁR pulls you in with a brilliantly mysterious text exchange between two unidentified associates of our lead, famous composer Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett, who Field wrote the script for), as she sleeps on a plane. One questions whether the other still loves Lydia, a question that goes unanswered. The closeness of such an exchange immediately triggers wonder at what might make someone stop loving this character, baking tension into everything that follows.
Field introduces Lydia over the course of TÁR’s first act through several long sequences that illustrate the very thin line between her personal and professional demeanors. She is considered one of the greatest conductors of her time, and not only does she have the knowledge and talent to back it up, but also the confidence. Whether she’s working the audience at a sit-down Q&A, traumatizing young prodigies at her Juilliard class, or wistful of her own history with an up-and-coming admirer or a retired idol of hers, Lydia always carries an air of prestige.
Unsurprisingly, Blanchett is perfect, balancing the grace of an old Hollywood star with a raw vulnerability. Lydia is very much the villain of her own story, but Blanchett is so good at tricking you into thinking she’s the hero, which homes in on what Field is exploring here. Lydia certainly thinks she’s the hero, and that arrogance gets her in trouble. When a series of allegations come out against her, everything she’s worked for is suddenly in jeopardy. TÁR reveals itself as not just a character study, but a timely discussion of power achieved through art.
Field’s script stops short of coming out and telling us that Lydia did in fact do the things someone from her past claims she did. Instead, we simply watch as her life turns upside down at the arrival of a young new Russian cellist (Sophie Kauer) in the German orchestra Lydia conducts. Sharon (Nina Hoss), concertmaster of the orchestra and Lydia’s wife, starts to see this celebrated idol spiral. Lawyers get involved. A good night’s sleep eludes Lydia.
But Field never lets TÁR slip into outright melodrama. This is first and foremost a story about the end of one era and the start of another—at the crossroads of talent and accountability. Still, the director retains his signature of small but character-revealing details that populate each and every scene. The actors are allowed the time and the freedom to make a meal out of every line, glance, or movement. And they all do, not just Blanchett.
Clocking in at just over two and a half hours, the film does have some pacing issues in the middle, but its focus remains singular. The characters here are wholly drawn, achieving a genuine humanity that similarly made Field’s other films stand out so much. Living in Lydia’s world for that time is never uninteresting. More often than not it’s quietly thrilling. TÁR may have just needed one extra pass through the edit room.
But as it exists, Field has delivered a complex meditation on the changing nature of the artist and the faults in their perception. Every bit as thought provoking as his previous films, TÁR is the unencumbered return of a cinema great. May his next project be sooner on the horizon.