Facebook Twitter

TÁR: 3 STARS: “brilliantly brought to life by Cate Blanchett.”

Cate Blanchett gives a bravura performance in “Tár,” a new 158-minute cancel culture melodrama, disguised as art house fare.

Blanchett is Lydia Tár, the superstar maestro of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. As she prepares for a landmark recording of Mahler’s Fifth, she is exacting and demanding, on-stage and off. In other words, she is a bully, used to folks kowtowing to her genius.

She quietly belittles her assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant), and unleashes a withering takedown of a Julliard student (Zethphan D. Smith-Gneist) whose crime was suggesting that Johann Sebastian Bach’s ribald personal life makes the composer unworthy of study.

In Berlin, when she isn’t putting the orchestra through their paces, she lives with partner Sharon (Nina Hoss), who happens to play violin in the orchestra, and stepdaughter Petra (Mila Bogojevic). At work she plays favorites with Olga (Sophie Kauer), a virtuoso cellist who rises through the ranks a little too quickly for the comfort of some of the other musicians.

Just as she is on the verge of major career milestones, a new memoir and the completion of her Mahler cycle of recordings, a crudely edited video of her Julliard lecture surfaces, alongside accusations of professional improprieties with a former colleague.

“Tár” places the emphasis on the wrong end of the story.

We can all imagine the high-flying part of Tár’s life. Images of limousines and private jets, of harried personal assistants and the hushed kind of respect that greeted her in the hallways of power, are all evidence of that.

What is far more compelling, but not as familiar, is the fall from grace. What happens when all you have worked for is taken away, gradually, then suddenly? That’s the real story and it’s the tale “Tár” doesn’t tell. Unfortunately, it spends two-plus hours on the other stuff, and gives a short shrift to the comeuppance in a way that is very unsatisfying.

Despite the imbalance in the story, “Tár” contains some breathtaking scenes, like the aforementioned Julliard sequence. Shot in one take, the scene is a show stopper for both Blanchett and cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister. That the beautiful one-shot take is later snipped into shards and reassembled, like pieces of a video puzzle, is a clever in-joke, and very effective.

The best part of “Tár” is an Oscar-bound Blanchett. In her hands Tár is an intimidator, whether it’s in her job, or at the playground as she browbeats her stepdaughter’s bully. She uses her power like a weapon to get what she wants and in Blanchett’s hands she is a character study of monster, a person cut loose from polite society. She says artists must “sublimate and obliterate” themselves for the art, and yet she is too much of a narcissist to take her own advice.

“Tár” has rewards for viewers patient enough to navigate the film’s poorly paced first hour. The revelation that power can breed monstrous behaviour isn’t new, but it is brilliantly brought to life by Blanchett.

Comments are closed.