“TÁR” is one of the most powerful films of the last decade
November 19, 2022
Usually a few times a year, a film will come out that takes everyone by surprise, launching to the tops of various year-end lists, with little marketing hype or fanfare to predispose an audience.
“TÁR” is as shocking as they come, with very little marketing theatrics or any major studio putting the film on a pedestal prior to audiences getting to judge it for themselves. Once the film began to premiere at festival circuits, the rumblings quickly began with exceedingly positive reception and talks of it being one of the very best films of 2022.
Even when I entered the theater to watch the film, knowing of all the audience reactions, I was still unprepared for what lay ahead of me. “TÁR” is a wholly unique cinematic experience, playing with audience expectations of the kind of awards season fodder the film will likely be lumped in with.
The film’s subversions, in fact, are so important that I would recommend anyone watch the film before reading any detailed reviews or analysis that might contain spoilers, for the best possible experience.
“TÁR” is a highly complex film that attempts to analyze and deconstruct the life of an artist (a fictional one contrary to common misconceptions that this is based on a real composer) and how ego affects the world of “high” art and even what the distinction is between what is arbitrarily considered high and low art.
It also deals with artists’ relationship with modernity, part of which involves “cancel culture,” a buzzword that has already lost all meaning through headlines, which the film also tries to deconstruct and deal with its implications. Although, attempting to simply call “TÁR” a movie about cancel culture would be regressive and minimize its intent.
Anyone who might consider themselves a creative will likely be made highly uncomfortable by this film in the best possible way. It portrays and comments on the idiosyncrasies and interpersonal failings that often are synonymous with well-respected artists or “geniuses.”
Cate Blanchett gives an otherworldly performance as Lydia Tár and creates one of the most three-dimensional and multilayered characters I have ever seen in a film. There was clearly a lot of practice, research and commitment to the role, as her character is so hyper-specific that it would be impossible to simply slip into, without proper preparation.
The director, writer and producer, Todd Field, also showed an immense level of care and commitment to the film. “TÁR” is Field’s first in more than 15 years, most of which I would not be surprised to learn were spent working on the film’s script, as the specificity of it is not something that would come out of simple research but requires years of examination of its subject material.
Field has a lot to say in the film, but compared to other auteur filmmakers, he says them much more confidently and free of pretension compared to how many others might when dealing with such complex themes and issues. “TÁR” is a wholly genuine, egoless film that is all about examining ego itself.
“TÁR” is also the antithesis of the cancel culture it deliberates on, as it refuses to present things in black and white. It shows the audiences many examples of Tar’s mistakes in her life but always gives both sides equal attention. What is most impressive is Field’s ability to feel like an unbiased voice, never completely siding with or against Tár, but rather letting the audience decide for themselves.
Although it may feel frustrating for some, the film’s resistance to give either Tár or those affected by her a triumphant, cinematic moment by the end of the film is completely necessary to what the film is trying to say about these complex interpersonal relationships.
There is a specific scene in which Tár is teaching a class and has a debate on the separation of the artist and their art, which later becomes one of the film’s main focuses. It displays both sides of the argument, both of which presented as valid answers. Although the scene itself may feel like it gives Tár the win, by the end of the film you’ll be questioning it from a completely new perspective.
Aside from its transcendent performances and script, “TÁR” also is one of the year’s most technically impressive films. The subtle score blends perfectly with the explosive orchestra scenes and is extremely exciting once it does give the audience the release of seeing Tár finally perform.
The cinematography is subtle yet electrifying, utilizing negative space and shooting certain locations in a way that makes them feel otherworldly. Although, most of the film takes place in what could be considered mundane spaces. No shot is wasted, and the film is always visually stimulating.
The pacing is also possibly some of the best I’ve ever seen. The film is nearly three hours long, with most of the runtime being taken up by dialogue-heavy scenes taking place in un-extraordinary circumstances. Despite this, I didn’t even want to leave the theater to use the restroom, even in scenes as seemingly unimportant as Tár having lunch. I could have easily watched three more hours with how enthralled I was from beginning to end.
The film’s editing, performances, direction, cinematography and pretty much every behind-the-scenes aspect all work in perfect harmony, not unlike the orchestra Tár herself conducts, to make a perfect piece of filmmaking.
“TÁR” is a highly ambitious film that succeeds on many fronts. It provides a fascinating character study of what it means to be a successful artist, artistry in the digital age, pretentiousness in the art world, the relationship between victims and their aggressors and so much more.
It would be foolish to attempt to distill everything that makes “TÁR” great in one short review, but it is easily one of the year’s best; I would recommend it to anyone open to a challenging and immensely stimulating time at the movies.
Staff reporter Zaden Dennis can be reached at [email protected] and you can find his other reviews at letterboxd.com/Zadenator.