Fittingly for a conductor, Tár navigates both her professional and personal life to an unwavering, precise tempo.Photo by Manuel Nägeli on Unsplash

Tár starts by — as it intends to continue with — offering its audience a challenge. My screening was met with confused murmurs, laughter and even grunts of annoyance at the prolonged crawl of opening credits, acknowledging first those usually relegated to the very end of the end credits, the catering staff, production units and assistant editors. Some might call it pretentious, but it strikes me as a thematically trenchant act of subterfuge from writer-director Todd Field. A pointed refusal to be branded as an all-conceiving, all-creating ‘auteur’. After all, to make and distribute art is, almost unavoidably, to collaborate. More often than not, the cults of personality that build around so-called individual ‘geniuses’ can lead to the subsuming, and even exploitation, of those at the bottom of the creative hierarchy.

The ‘genius’ in question here is the eponymous Lydia Tár, brought to life by Cate Blanchett. She is the esteemed maestro of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra who stands at the crowning point of a career that has seen her showered in accolades and afforded an illustrious reputation. Fittingly for a conductor, Tár navigates both her professional and personal life to an unwavering, precise tempo. That is, however, until scandal and rumours of sexual misconduct threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect world.

“The cults of personality that build around so-called ‘geniuses’ can lead to the subsuming [...]of those at the bottom”

Tár is a proudly difficult film, dialogue-heavy and stubbornly reluctant to talk down to its audience. The unassuming viewer might become weary of long dinner table conversations about the intricacies of classical music, were it not for Blanchett’s utterly captivating turn in the lead role, which anchors the entire project. It’s a performance at once grandiose and painstakingly detailed, a blend of imperious hauteur and quiet vulnerability that arrests our gaze with the mere flick of a conductor’s baton. The film is handsomely crafted, from Florian Hoffmeister’s stately cinematography, to the wonderful sound design that finds as much music in the banal as in Beethoven. But it’s all in service of Blanchett, and Field ensures that she is given the space she needs to shine.

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Reliably audacious across the course of its almost three-hour runtime, Tár seems tailor-made to polarise. Lydia’s calls for a young student of colour to “sublimate” their identity in the face of an overwhelmingly white, male classical music canon has seen it lauded by right-wing ideologues on Twitter as a retort against ‘wokeness’. On the other hand, real-life conductor Marin Alsop has criticised the film for apparently demonising the achievements of women in music, particularly those who identify as lesbian. Both risk simplifying Tár; Lydia’s femininity, sexuality and even occupation are almost incidental — she stands in for any and all figures of authority who exploit their positions for selfish gain. “Sublimate yourself” to the music she might command — but the irony is not lost on us that what Tár really desires is for everyone in her life, be it her pupils or her wife (an excellent Nina Hoss), to sublimate to her as well.

“Watching Field’s film is to be constantly torn between different points of view”

When it comes to so-called ‘cancel culture’, the film is level-headed but never equivocating. In latching onto condemnation of easily visible, individual acts of wrongdoing, do we risk ignoring systemic injustices that are harder to see, let alone call out? Does the invisibility that results from ‘cancellation’ impede true accountability? Tár is interested in all these questions and more, yet never pretends that their answers are easy. Watching Field’s film is to be constantly torn between different points of view, and to have your assumptions and sympathies challenged.


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As the film draws to a close, we still don’t really know how to feel about our central character. The final scene is not one to be spoiled, but is a biting turn of the screw that is bound to provoke a laugh — but, for better or for worse, might also bring with it pangs of bittersweet pity.

Love or loathe Lydia Tár — but when Blanchett steps up onto that conducting podium, piercing the faces of her players and the camera with that icy gaze, I challenge you to look away.