Once a mediocre actor, Todd Field at the beginning of the century presented himself as a great director, an even better screenwriter. He was nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay for the fantastic films “In the Bedroom” and “Little Children”, but after he shot another film in 2006, the man seemed to have fallen into the ground. And it took more than 15 years for the now almost 60-year-old Field to return, but that return is, to put it mildly, triumphant. “Tar” is a film that follows its two predecessors in terms of quality and returns Field to one of the most interesting American filmmakers of the 21st century, and it is a film with great acting performances that so cleverly and so thoughtfully portrays today’s times.
The role of the fictional famous conductor Lydia Tar is one of the best in the career for the famous Australian actress Cate Blanchett, who has already won two Oscars (the main one in Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” and the supporting one in Scorsese’s “The Aviator”), and I would not be surprised at all if the most important he also won a film award for this role. For her performance, she already won the Volpi Cup in Venice, where “Tar” premiered, and it is one of those Character Driven films in which everything revolves around the head of the protagonist. Lydia Tar is probably the greatest conductor since the time of Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein, the first woman to be the principal conductor of the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic, and she is well aware of her greatness and importance.
She almost has the status of a rock star, works on several projects, writes books, composes, and is currently planning to record Mahler’s fifth symphony, the only one of his nine symphonies that she has not recorded. And the woman is a real erudite, connoisseur of culture and art, and we see that she is a bit vain in the opening scene during the interview with Adam Gopnik. She does not hide the fact that she is a lesbian and for a long time she has been married to Sharon (Nina Hoss), a violinist in the Berlin Philharmonic, and she transfers practically all daily tasks to her personal assistant Francesca (Noemie Merlant), a talented young conductor who believes that Lydia will soon to be promoted to assistant conductor in the Philharmonic.
But we will understand until the end that Lydia, who asks everyone to call her Maestro, has a dark side, and her seemingly idyllic and successful life will gradually begin to fall apart. Although perhaps in the beginning “Tar” seems a bit elitist, snobbish which is not surprising because Lydia is also a person full of herself who likes to look down on others, the story develops fantastically and in time we will get to know the real Lydia. A star full of self-confidence who initially behaves as if she is untouchable and as if only the sky is the limit, but this woman is well aware of her dark side, a flaw that she may hide well at first. Although she tries to make an impression on the outside, people close to her know her well and know how she behaves and how egoistic she is and how easily she gives up those she previously used.
The first cracks in her personality will begin to appear during a guest lecture at the prestigious American music conservatory Jiulliard, when she gets into an argument with a student about Bach. And maybe at first it seems like a harmless quarrel with a typical representative of the young generation who forms his opinion according to trends from social networks, so he decided to “cancel” the famous German baroque composer because of his lifestyle, and Lydia will make fun of him for that. Soon, however, while she is in America, she will start receiving e-mails from a young protégé whom she no longer wants to contact and asks Francesca to stop all contact with her, and that young conductor will soon commit suicide.
When she returns to Berlin, she will find a new young favorite, the Russian cellist Olga, and Sharon and Francesca will recognize in her relationship with Olga a pattern of behavior that they have often seen before. Lydia will begin to experience nightmares, panic attacks, fear, and we will see that it is with good reason when “Tar” reaches a rather shocking and completely unexpected climax. And Field masterfully created a scenario about the problems of today, about this cancel culture, the generation gap between the older academic generations and the new generations that are educated via social networks and YouTube. About the time of fear, what and how to say and the time when skeletons try to bury themselves as deep as possible in closets because even the slightest deviation from the standard could lead to social condemnation.
We’ll see that Lydia does have some skeletons in her closet, and it’s a great decision by Field to cast a woman in such a role of what all these social hawks today call a “white person in a position of power.” Although the film lasts for a good two and a half hours and although at the beginning we still cannot guess where the story of the famous conductor could lead, it is an incredible pleasure to watch an excellent actress like Blanchett dominating the screen. As she wears the film, she slowly turns from a confident star into a cornered person who pretends not to understand what went wrong and why her life is slowly turning into chaos, but she knows it very well. And at the very end of this stylized, highly aestheticized film, there is a completely crazy finale. A brilliant film that I place at the very top of the list of films watched in 2022.