4 out of 5 stars
When awards season comes around for the movie industry, Australians tend to punch above their weight with names like Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman. Yet, the name that keeps the land Down Under in the running for the top awards is Cate Blanchett. As a two-time Academy Award winner, she has seen her best days in the cinema, but she continues to go from strength to strength. Tár is a brave project from writer/director Todd Field who introduces the world to the magnanimous and infamous conductor, Lydia Tár (Blanchett).
The legendary virtuoso has done everything in music. When this prolific musician is involved, the project gets the attention of all levels of media. Beyond her accomplishments as a conductor for the Big Five Orchestras, Tár is a celebrated pianist, composer and is one of the few musicians to wear the label of EGOT, having won the major American entertainment awards (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). At 49 years of age, she is about to have her memoirs published, and along with the historical recording of Mahler's Fifth Symphony while helming the Berlin Philharmonic. Yet, while everything looks stellar on the surface, storms are brewing in her personal and past life. As things unravel with her marriage to her wife and concertmaster, Sharon (Nina Hoss), there are rumours that she is associated with Krista Taylor. The talented conductor was a former Accordion fellow and student of Lydia, who recently committed suicide. Tar must determine if her celebrity status and reputation can withstand the potential public relations challenges.
In this #MEtoo-influenced generation, Tár is an audacious project that upends the typical narrative by introducing a potential perpetrator of transactional sexual favours as a lesbian. While most films of this ilk focus on the patriarchal side of the industry and typically focus on the male wrongdoer, Field shows that anyone is capable of these actions. Then to have one of the most celebrated actresses of this era to be playing this character gives this a gravitas unlike anything else currently in cinemas. All this leads to a different viewing experience as the audience must move from celebrating this character to seeing them as the unlikely villain.
Cate Blanchett commits to this role with visceral fervour that keeps the tension tenable as each layer of her character’s life unfolds on screen. She captures the humanity within the vicious nature of celebrity, all the while showing how pride is the sin that brings most of us to our knees. Her performance is supported by the brilliance within the screenplay, which diffuses the usual arguments in modern culture. The scene at the graduate masterclass at the Juilliard School unearths the juxtaposition of celebrating the beauty of art or music despite the changes in culture since it was created.
If there is anything that undercuts the value of this film it would be placed at the feet of the editing process, since this film could have been as strong if it had been shortened by a half an hour. Beyond the length and overall melancholic tone of the film, Tár does showcase the exceptional talents of Cate Blanchett and Todd Field as a writer.
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Reel Dialogue: Pride goes before destruction
As this film unfolds, this is a familiar phrase that will play over in the minds of many watching. Lydia Tár is the epitome of someone who has allowed her own hubris to take over her life. Her story proves that no one seems immune from the reality of the proverb, regardless of how successful life may be for the individual.
Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. - Proverbs 16:18 (NLT)
Many may not know that this is a Biblical concept and that it is at the root of the original sin of mankind. Every person, barring one, in history has or will succumb to this nasty human trait that remains at the heart of all of humanity's failings. This metaphor for the human condition proves that pride is the problem in the story and that the escape from this vicious counterpart can only be found outside of ourselves.
Even though the disastrous nature of pride is introduced in the Bible, this book also provides the means of escaping its influence. Humility is the antithesis of the vicious cycle of pride, exemplified by the person of Jesus.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition [rivalry] or conceit” - Philippians 2:3 (ESV)