With 'TÁR,' the Oscar Is Cate Blanchett's to Lose

Directed by Todd Field

Starring Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant, Mark Strong, Julian Glover

Photo courtesy of Focus Features

BY Prabhjot BainsPublished Oct 6, 2022

Early on in Todd Field's incendiary and masterful TÁR, his first film in 16 years, a pontification on the nature of time — especially in relation to the role of orchestral conducting — takes centre stage, touching on the realms of artistry that are ultimately ceded to its all-consuming and unwavering makeup. At 158 mins, the film similarly utilizes its runtime to deliver a slow burn that is perfectly paced, putting forward not only a playfully provocative meditation on hot-button topics like race, gender and "cancel culture," but also a character study for the ages.

TÁR is all-encompassing yet wholly intimate, an epic-in-miniature that consistently impresses both in terms of its sheer technical prowess and its towering central performance. There is a steady push and pull between what is truly the film's crowing achievement: Cate Blanchett or the immaculate production. What's for certain, though, is that the audience is the true winner.

Cate Blanchett stars as Lydia Tár, one of the greatest living composers, and the first-ever female conductor of the Berlin Orchestra. The film opens with a seemingly never-ending and pompous introduction by Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker, highlighting her status as a multifaceted great whose EGOT is one of her lesser achievements. Yet, with such a fawning introduction, it quickly becomes apparent that our heralded protagonist will have no where to go but down. What ensues is a glorious unravelling, a fall from grace that doubles as an intense psychological portrait of an obsessive (and eerily calm) artist whose fervour for control and authority is pushed to the brink.

Lydia casually states that a musician's "only home is the podium," and her stark, drably lit Berlin apartment (which evokes the infamous Wall) affirms that. Her wife, Sharon (Nina Hoss), who is a member of her symphony, does all the heavy lifting at home, especially when Lydia recedes back into her side-flat, reserved only for herself and some budding "pupils."

Blanchett's Lydia is a force to be reckoned with, as her predatory gaze cuts through each member of her philharmonic, relishing the supreme control she has over her art and the musicians who are supposedly playing to the sublime. Yet, they aren't answering to a higher power, but only to the walking tempest who presides over them. Armed with stylish pantsuits, she slickly navigates through each room, encounter and long-winded conversation with precision. Blanchett is a cataclysmic presence, whose pure command of her craft is palpable, radiating off screen and giving life to this turbulent, nuanced character.

For all intents and purposes, the Oscar is Blanchett's to lose. She seamlessly emanates both a lavish and otherworldly aura, a figure whose mastery of articulation revels in words like "misogamy" to keep others at a distance and establish a sense of supremacy. Her pretension becomes impenetrable but entirely fascinating, burning so bright that her ultimate collapse becomes all but inevitable. 

Field's direction finds a perfect equilibrium between awe-inspiring and understated. Along with director of photography Florian Hoffmeister, Field crafts a hauntingly mesmerizing experience that is filled with slicing symmetries and textured reflections that fold on top of one another, rendering dreamscapes into austere voids of contemplation and regret. Hildur Guðnadóttir's unnerving, powerful score only serves to cement TÁR as a complete visual and sonic feast.

Simultaneously flashy and unadorned, Field's penchant for long, unbroken takes lend a theatricality to many scenes, providing Blanchett a stage on which to take control of our senses. This allows for a raw immediacy to underpin the engrossing drama, wit, and introspection. 

This is most effectively achieved in a scene where Lydia guest lectures for a Juilliard class, challenging a student's disdain for the classical greats due to their racism. As the camera beautifully cascades across the room, precisely tracking her shifting routes, she provokes both her students and the audience at large to explore the complexities of artistry, and whether art should be separated from the artist. 

As we traverse each purposefully drawn-out scene and composition, it becomes apparent that the film rests on Blanchett's shoulders just as much as she rests on the film's. It's a pristine symbiotic relationship that is the result of a confident cinematic vision.

Field plays the long con, staging the first act as a series of conversations that are brimming with brilliant, contemplative dialogue. It allows viewers to settle into its provocative and introspective stream with ease, as Lydia dismantles each of her foils with a vicious eloquence. Field then shifts to thunderous orchestral sequences that offer great insight into the creative process, while enthralling with their chilling, elaborate soundscapes. By the time the third act of unravelling begins, we're already obsessed.

TÁR is a singular piece of filmmaking that will go down as one of the greatest character studies of this era. It's an unflinchingly beautiful descent into the mind of a bold artist, who would rather see herself destroyed before the music — but more so because of its haunting, ethereal reckoning with the inherent intricacies of artistry itself.

Field returns to the cinematic landscape with a fearless, sweeping gravitas that is rarely, if ever, matched — with that final grin-inducing shot capping off a truly extraordinary experience.

Latest Coverage