To acquire wisdom, one must observe

‘Tár’ is slow and steady, but is carried by its lead performance

Historically, the world of conductors and classical music has been dominated by straight men. This can be seen as a toxic culture, and many people believe that there needs to be shakeups and to welcome diversity. Even though society can move away from that culture, there may still be some deep toxicity lurking. That is the main idea about the film “Tár,” a character study of a female conductor with questionable morals. It is meant to show that sinister environments come from anywhere, and it can take a long time for exposure. “Tár” is an example of a film where the protagonist is someone that is intriguing, but is not the hero of the story. While the story is not that alluring, the whole movie is made by the lead performance. “Tár” is available on Peacock, so watch it if you are ready to see some dark secrets of conducting life.

Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) is one of the most accomplished female conductors of all time. She is an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony (EGOT) winner who has been the head conductor of many prestigious orchestras, currently the first female head conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. In her personal life, she is married to concertmaster Sharon (Nina Hoss), with whom she shares a young daughter. Tár lives in these two different worlds, but sometimes her personal life and feelings slip into her work life. There is something ominous alluded to with the discussions of Krista, a former fellow of Tár, and something complex with new cellist Olga (Sophia Kauer). Eventually, this all comes to a head in different ways, and the world of Tár is exposed, both professionally and personally. It is hard to make it as a woman in such a male dominated industry, but that does not mean the way to succeed is to replicate the standards of that industry.

This film is absolutely made by its lead performance. If this film did not have a level of acting like Blanchett, it might have fallen into indie film obscurity. Blanchett is in practically every single scene and she commands all of them. The character of Tár is meant to have an intimidating presence, and everyone is supposed to abide by her every word. Blanchett is able to portray that energy, and is also able to expertly show how that facade crumbles. This film is all about Tár’s peak and breakdown, and Blanchett is able to show every step of the way, and grips the audience until the end. She is a frontrunner for winning Best Actress at the Oscars, and I think she absolutely deserves that recognition. While the film centers around her, I thought Hoss had excellent scenes as Sharon. What started as a muted character became more emotional and outspoken as the film went on, and it was interesting to see her growth. While Hoss is not nearly as big of a star as Blanchett, she was able to hold her own in their scenes. The rest of the characters did not have much screen time individually, but they all made excellent foils to Tár. From her assistant to her colleagues to her musicians, everyone had their own relationship to Tár, and every actor was able to let the audience clearly know her true effect.

While all of the actors in this film were terrific, other parts of the film leave much to be desired. First of all, there is the story. The whole film was around two and a half hours, and it did not need to take that long. It seemed like it took forty minutes for there to be a problem. While I’m usually a fan of slice of life films, I felt there could have been a little more excitement. The film picked up a little in the last third or so, but there should have been more action to draw me in, instead of just relying on the performances. Don’t get me wrong, I found the actual story concept to be interesting. Maybe I would have been more interested if this was a book, and everything was clearly written out. Like I said earlier, this story needed Blanchett. It needs an exciting force to bring a muted story to life. That being said, there were some film-specific aspects that I did enjoy.  While the story was lacking, I found the directing of each scene to be well done. Every scene was set up accordingly so that the audience understands the implications and the seriousness of every scene. Sure, for a non-black-and-white film, there is a real lack of color. However, every directorial choice and mise-en-scene feels very calculated. The writing was subpar, but the directing was one of a kind. 

This film puts forward an interesting discussion, and that is what stands out most of all. This is a film that could not exist 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Theoretically, it could not exist five years ago either, but that is mostly because the pandemic is mentioned. The point is, this film is meant to display the hard environments that are prevalent in society, especially in environments that are arts-based and where everyone is trying their best to work their way up. It is also meant to show that it is not always going to be sunshine and roses with a woman in charge. While we should absolutely hire more women for managerial roles, this film shows a specific instance of a negative scenario. I don’t want to give too much away, but whether or not you like this film, it will leave you thinking a bit about the world we have created for today, and what the working world will look like in the future. While this is certainly not one of my favorite movies, I want to applaud the creativity and the direction that this went. Of course, I also have to applaud the acting. So if you want to see a unique examination of the girlboss concept, or you want to see a tour de force performance, watch “Tár” today.

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