Tar - icy cold and smoking hot

Cate Blanchett in TAR

Cate Blanchett in TAR

Tar is the third film from director Todd Field and his first in 13 years, its also the first film he wrote entirely.

Starring and co-produced by Cate Blanchett who plays the titular Lydia Tar, it was a part Field wrote for her during lock down and claims he wouldn’t have made the film if she turned him down.

Tar is a person, Lydia Tar, currently the conductor of the Berlin orchestra. When we meet Lydia Tar she is at the absolute peak of her career. She is introduced to us as EGOT winner, head of prestigious Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and about to record Mahler's fifth sympathy for Deutsche Gramophone. With that, she will complete his cycle, a massive and rare achievement. She is clearly at the absolute height of her powers.

Behind the scenes however, there are forces looking to bring her down, mostly her own doing but it’s a drip, drip of bad news and eventually a boiling point will be reached.It’s a current story about Me Too and cancel culture but more so, it is a traditional story of hubris and self destruction.

Tar's confidence built up of years of overcoming odds stacked against her based on her own gender and sexuality. You can imagine the talent she must have for to achieve what she does in such a male dominated world. It’s quite clear however, she has pulled the ladder up behind her and will pay for that.

Cate Blanchett obviously has some affection for the character. She was in Field's mind when he wrote the screenplay and invited Blanchett on as a producer. Her empathy for Tar (empathy, rather than sympathy ) allows her to deliver a nuanced performance. She has opportunities to expose Tar to the audience as pretentious, haughty and even fraudulent, a lesser film would have done this, but Blanchett plays her with charisma and a genuine earned confidence that catches you off guard.

It’s very hard to display genius on screen without it looking a little corny and this film does it masterfully. You are never in doubt at Tar’s talent or genius (she’s also impeccably well dressed! ).The opening scene where she is doing an on stage interview with the New Yorker is a great introduction to the character.

She is charming and affable but as the movie goes on we see her be cruel and manipulative to underlings and students. We watch her downfall being plotted behind anonymous phone screens, recording her asleep on planes and mocking her through text messages we can read on screen. These scenes are filmed almost like a horror movie, the tension builds.

Todd Field's last two films, In The Bedroom and Little Children are great small films, but Tar is on a much grander scale. It’s a shame it’s taken him 13 years to make a third movie but if he needs 13 years to make something as good as this, fair enough. See you in 2036 Todd.

Blanchett has played women on the verge of a breakdown before, notably in Blue Jasmine (Where she won her second Oscar ). It’s different here though, she has control everything till all of a sudden she doesn’t. Slowly, slowly, then all at once. It makes the last twenty minutes, (where the movie will lose some of its viewers I think ) all the more powerful to me.

This is her best work since Carol and possibly her best work yet. I really loved this movie but it is not for everyone. It is one some people will admire this film more than enjoy it and I get that. It’s a long film and at times it’s an uncomfortable watch. I found it clever and beautiful to look at, it was both icy cold but with a hot intensity. I would gladly spend hours longer with Lydia Tar but for most people, the two hours and forty minutes will be more than enough.


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