Cate Blanchett in the film TÁR. Credit: FocusFeatures

Cate Blanchett dominates as celebrated conductor and composer Lydia Tár in director and screenplay writer Todd Field’s unflinching interrogation of power and corruption.

LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD

Tár is a masterful character-study of the downfall of a creative genius. Cate Blanchett is electric in her role as composer, conductor and self-proclaimed ‘U-Haul lesbian’ Lydia Tár in this portrait of an artist desperately attempting to stay afloat amidst steadily rising controversies regarding their murky past. When an edited video of Tár being verbally abusive towards one of her students is posted online amidst reports of a prior student of hers dying by suicide, questions begin to arise regarding a pattern of problematic behaviour enacted by Tár throughout her decades-long career, which threatens to disgrace her reputation. 

It is difficult to imagine anyone other than Blanchett doing justice to Lydia Tár- she blazes through Todd Field’s densely verbose screenplay with venomous precision, effortlessly charting Tár’s unravelling descent from impassive monument of authority to figure twitching with wild-eyed paranoia, assisted throughout by composer Hildur Guðnadóttir’s hypnotically dissonant score. The visual language of Tár is also worth mentioning; Lydia Tár has a seemingly endless (and enviable) supply of sharply tailored suits in this film, and the brutalist Berlin apartment she shares with her partner (played by German actress Nina Hoss) and daughter is gorgeously realised by production designer Marco Bittner Rosser. The cinematography and colour grading are muted and precise, Cate Blanchett’s granite-jawed stare often filling the screen with intimidating intensity.

If there are any criticisms to be levelled at Tár, its references to cancel culture do threaten to reduce it to less than the sum of its parts. Lydia Tár as a character is deeply flawed, yes, but also undeniably complex, afforded a level of layered humanity rarely extended to such unapologetically problematic female characters – yet the film’s inclusion of the very term ‘cancel culture’ invites consideration of it through this inflammatory lens. Tár, however, is distinctly not a cancel culture film (at least in the toxic social media sense) but rather a breakdown of the culture of cancellation in a digital society which has grown increasingly intolerant of influential figures abusing their power for personal gain. 

Conduct yourself to your nearest cinema: you don’t want to miss this film.

4/5 stars

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