Cate Blanchett plays a conductor who orchestrates her own undoing in Todd Field’s return to filmmaking, “TÁR.” It’s her career-best performance since she told Therese Belivet “I like the hat” in 2015’s “Carol,” and her latest role allows her to dig into the sinews of her gifts while also reflecting on her own public-figure status and genius. Here in Field’s fictional universe that mirrors our wobbly own, she’s playing Lydia Tár, the most famous female conductor in history, and a woman whose interpersonal dealings with protégés, peers, fans, and colleagues become her inevitable destruction. Watch the final trailer for the film below before Focus Features opens it theatrically on October 7.
The movie is set primarily in Berlin, where Lydia lives with her partner Sharon (Christian Petzold veteran Nina Hoss, giving an equally, quietly triumphant performance) and small, adopted Syrian daughter. A self-described “U-haul lesbian,” Lydia is preparing to record Gustav Mahler’s fifth symphony with the German orchestra she’s led for the last decade. She’s also entering a period of heightened retrospective scrutiny, publishing a self-authored volume of interviews titled “Tár on Tár.” From the moment the film starts, in a wide-ranging Q&A sit-down with actual New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, you have the sense of a woman in tremulous control of her own legacy.
But it’s slipping out of her hands. Her assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant), whom she once promised the world but now seems poised to discard for reasons best unspoiled, becomes disillusioned. Meanwhile, long-simmering allegations against Lydia begin to surface that send her into a tailspin.
The rest of the nearly-three-hour movie unfolds as a breakdown of the Lydia persona, and quite possibly of the Blanchett variety as well, as she attempts to triage her shattering public image. Field shoots the movie with a Tarkovsky-like distance, with long passages unfolding in underground roadway tunnels and cold rooms where all you can hear is a refrigerator humming, and a refusal of any sentimentality. “Tár” should prove controversial for its timely take on cancel culture and #MeToo-related politics; it takes no easy stance, or prisoners, either. Composer Hildur Guðnadóttir and cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister add to the unease.
Cate Blanchett won the Best Actress prize at Venice for her performance, and that should set her up nicely for a sweep of upcoming critics’ awards on the road to Oscar. Meanwhile, “In the Bedroom” director Todd Field releases his first movie since 2006’s “Little Children” blew up the facade hanging over middle-class, post-9/11 suburbia. He wrote this movie for Blanchett, but it belongs to both of them.
“She is a master supreme,” Field said in a director’s statement. “Even so, while we were making the picture, the superhuman-skill and verisimilitude of Cate was something truly astounding to behold. She raised all boats. The privilege of collaborating with an artist of this caliber is something impossible to adequately describe.”
Read IndieWire’s review of “TÁR” here.