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'Tar'Review: Power and Prestige in the Western Symphony

In his first film since the 2006 𝘓𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘭𝘦 𝘊𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘥𝘳𝘦𝘯 Todd Field sets his gaze on the illustrious world of the symphony. A character portrait in the purest sense, the audience gets an uncompromising glimpse into the life of Lydia Tár, a music composer-conductor of international acclaim and local infamy. The film stars academy award winning actress, Cate Blanchett as well as a handful of exceedingly talented performances by Nina Hoss, Noemie Merlant, Mark Strong, and first-time actress, Sophie Kauer. Blanchett steps into what may be her best role to date, delivering a powerfully convincing performance as a tragically flawed figure in the realm of western music. In terms of the script, Field waits for no one in this two-and-a-half hour psychological drama, with scenes that are often composed with convoluted dialogue and technical jargon that may seem alien to the uninitiated. Much of our protagonist’s life is examined through her daily interactions with those around her, often through thought provoking conversation and dialogue with the various members of her orchestra. However, Field writes his script with a sense of ambiguity, portraying Tár as a figure alienated from those around her, both emotionally and physically. From a technical standpoint the cinematography, sound design, editing, and overall direction are superb. German cinematographer Florian Hoffmesiter was tasked with delivering Field’s vision, utilizing both long takes and close-up shots that provide a sense of immersion into the world that Field has created. It's apparent that Field took his time on this film, crafting each scene with an intense sense of perfectionism that really speaks to his work with the late director, Stanley Kubrick. 


However effective Tár may be in serving as a 21st century character study, it’s equally masterful in critiquing the climate of our current society. One of the most poignant moments of the film doesn’t take place in an orchestral theater, but rather, a modest classroom at Julliard. When a student identifying as ‘bipoc pangender’ exudes his distaste of Bach due to his history of misogynism, Tár proceeds to dissect the young man and his argument with a sort of surgical perfection that leaves the audience teetering the line between admiration and disdain. In the final lines of her speech, the protagonist poses a question to the crowd of future musicians and artists that may exemplify one of the film’s strongest themes, “Can you separate the art from the artist?” Lydia Tár’s philosophy stems from the notion of separating the art from the artist. Bach’s personal life and attitude is trivial to Lydia Tár, as only his music is of importance. This contrasts significantly with many of the themes resonating in today's society, as we increasingly see a rise in ‘cancel culture’ based not on one’s character, but prior grievances. In Tár, Field isn’t attempting to be overtly political by any means, painting an uncompromising story that poses many questions relevant to that of our current society. By the film’s end the viewer may recall the lines uttered by Lydia Tár during her night at Julliard, “Can you separate the art from the artist?”


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Tags: cinema music film 2022 film Oscar nominee Todd field cinematography Cate Blanchett Tar


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