Review: In ‘Tár’, Cate Blanchett is a maestro at work | Features

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“Time is the thing,” says Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) in “Tar” by Todd Fields.

World-renowned bandleader Lydia explains her art as more than waving a stick – not just a “human metronome” – but rather an almost divine ability to shape and contort time. The way Blanchett says this, with her arms swirling and shaping the air like clay, makes you believe that yes, she really can stop time.

But in “Tár” – a film that also measures and sculpts moments with intense precision – time might catch up with Lydia. She would seem unmoved by the fall. Right after the opening credits, Lydia is there on a sparkling New York stage before a thrilled audience being interviewed at length, and with almost oppressive precision for such flattering exchanges, by The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik (as himself). . of the classical music world, an EGOT winner with a new memoir, “Tár on “Tár”, is as impressive as her regal and polished stage presence.

Yet a fleeting, introductory moment of a phone camera pointed at a sleeping Lydia, with mocking text filling the screen, portends that the bandleader’s rarefied perch might be in danger. “Tár,” which opens in theaters Friday, is set in a real world of high art and high media. The spaces occupied by Lydia are resolutely contemporary architectures. The film is shot by Florian Hoffmeister with a cool, almost documentary perspective. It’s in these cold, brainy surroundings that Lydia operates with exquisite intelligence and ruthless cunning – and Blanchett gives a colossal performance of tour de force that may be the finest of her career, a career as decorated as Lydia’s.

“Tár,” written and directed by Fields, stands apart on its own over time. It’s Fields’ first film in 16 years, following the uneven misfire of 2006’s “Little Children” and his 2001 Oscar-nominated debut, “In the Bedroom.” At 2 hours and 38 minutes, you can almost feel it trying to make up for lost years in “Tár.” In it, he presents a gripping portrait of power and art, rigorous and devastating in its accuracy, while being incredibly less specific on a host of burning issues like the so-called cancel culture, identity politics and #MeToo.

But though Lydia’s growing problems – whisper about her propensity to groom young female players as her lovers; the suicide of a former trainee conductor following Lydia’s blacklisting; a young girl (Mila Bogojevic) whom she largely leaves to her wife and philharmonic concertmaster (the brilliant Nina Hoss) to take care of – are increasingly public, “Tár” is a deeply intimate film. We follow Lydia’s every move with a mixture of admiration (she really is brilliant), curiosity (how much can she get away with?) and wonder. How deeply is Lydia’s cruelty tied to her genius?

The answers Fields provides aren’t always satisfying, but for much of the film, he and Blanchett orchestrate fascinating character study. The equally seductive first scene places Lydia, who casually describes herself as “a U-Haul lesbian,” as a guest speaker at Julliard with aspiring bandleaders. One of them describes himself as “a BIPOC pangender” who “doesn’t like Bach”. He trembles like Lydia, tears it calmly like “a robot”. “Don’t be so eager to be offended,” she said.

Lydia’s point of view will annoy some and be applauded by others, but in her sweet torrent of words, she also presents less controversial and heartfelt arguments for “sublimating” and “erasing” herself before art. Lydia spends much of “Tár” managing her considerable affairs, manipulating the cogs of the Philharmonic with her personal assistant (Noémie Merlant) and eyeing a young Russian cellist (Sophie Kauer). But when she rehearses Mahler’s Fifth with the orchestra or completely under the influence of the music, Lydia is masterful. She may still be somehow successful, but that doesn’t mean she’s not really herself. “Music is movement,” Bernstein is heard saying in an old recording during the It is clear that Lydia, too, is a force of unbridled momentum.

And it can be devilishly fun to see Lydia in motion. The way she diverts, like a shark with a new scent, across a schoolyard to button up her daughter’s bully. “I’ll get you,” she threatens – and you know she really means it. Or how she reacts when she sees her daughter’s stuffed animals arranged like an orchestra, each carrying a baton. “It’s not a democracy,” she sniffles.

Once the noise that plagues Lydia throughout the film finally consumes her, we don’t experience her downward spiral as one might expect. For her, it’s less a Greek tragedy than a kind of unwelcome nuisance. “Tár” sags here and there from squashed dialogue and overly long drama. But I think its most egregious missteps come in this chapter, when the film’s restrained spell breaks in a fit of unbelievable violence and an offbeat final note turns its protagonist into a punchline.

The fact that I recoiled at these moments speaks to the deft balance Fields strikes for much of the film’s runtime, standing up against Lydia’s judgment and refusing to saddle up with the expected commentary of art versus the artist. But above all, it is because Blanchett has created such a symphony of characters, which uses all the tricks and tones of his vast repertoire, that any wrong note is shocking. The word I’m looking for is “maestro”.

“‘Tár”, a Focus Features release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for language and brief nudity. Duration: 158 minutes. Three out of four stars.


Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP


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