Tár: a Good Film that Could Have Been So Much More


Tár is a metic­u­lous­ly craft­ed film, boasts a tow­er­ing per­for­mance from Cate Blanchett, and tack­les a seri­ous sub­ject in a care­ful­ly con­sid­ered and mea­sured way. So why does it leave the view­er qui­et­ly deflated?

Todd Field made his direc­to­r­i­al debut in 2001 with In the Bed­room, and fol­lowed that up with his adap­ta­tion of Tom Perrotta’s Lit­tle Chil­dren, in 2006, both of which are superb. 

All his films are clear­ly a con­scious riposte and anti­dote to a cul­ture that seems to have trad­ed seri­ous­ness and depth for ephemer­al triv­ia and emp­ty if imme­di­ate grat­i­fi­ca­tion. And in each film, the lives of com­fort­able but sym­pa­thet­ic mid­dle class pro­tag­o­nists are sud­den­ly uproot­ed by exter­nal threats they’re inca­pable of comprehending.

Lydia Tár, played by Blanchett, is that rare thing, a respect­ed and suc­cess­ful con­duc­tor in the world of clas­si­cal music, who hap­pens to be gay. Though hap­pi­ly ensconced with her part­ner and their 7 year old daugh­ter, she clear­ly is or was roman­ti­cal­ly engaged with her assis­tant, Francesca, and had ear­li­er had some sort of a tryst and or rela­tion­ship with a musi­cal pro­tégée called Krista. 

Enter Olga, the new­ly arrived and much younger cel­list in the orches­tra, who Blanchett instant­ly devel­ops a crush on. Indeed, the only rea­son Olga secures her posi­tion is pre­cise­ly because of said infatuation. 

In the Bed­room, 2001

But when, and with­out giv­ing any­thing away, it’s dis­cov­ered that Krista has com­mit­ted sui­cide and has some­how impli­cat­ed Blanchett, her com­fort­able exis­tence begins to unravel. 

The prob­lem is, the film spends far too much time estab­lish­ing its clas­si­cal music cre­den­tials, and not near­ly enough explor­ing the dra­mat­ic ques­tions it rais­es. What exact­ly is Blanchett accused of doing, what does she think she did, what actu­al­ly hap­pened, and how big is the gap between the pub­lic per­cep­tion of what she’s accused of and what she actu­al­ly did?

If the film had failed to ful­ly address any of its dra­mat­ic ques­tions, and had insist­ed instead on remain­ing stead­fast­ly enig­mat­ic over the course of, say, a 90 minute film, then that might have been one thing. But Tár goes on for the guts of 2 and ¾ hours. 

And what you get instead are extend­ed dis­cus­sions of Mahler’s 5th, and the mild­ly con­tentious ques­tion around the tem­po of its adagi­et­to, and reams and reams of her jog­ging, rehears­ing and com­pos­ing. The open­ing scene in par­tic­u­lar, in which she’s inter­viewed by the New York­er’s Adam Gop­nik, goes on for ev er.

Lit­tle Chil­dren, 2006.

You’d love to have sent them away for a month with their script and a rig­or­ous script edi­tor. Or alter­na­tive­ly, to have been left alone with the fin­ished film and a pair of scis­sors in an edit­ing suite.

When it does focus on the dra­ma, as for instance with the scenes between Blanchett and Olga, or between Blanchett and her wife and daugh­ter, the film siz­zles and sparks fly. It just fails entire­ly to pro­duce any kind of sat­is­fy­ing third act.

Tár is impec­ca­bly made and impres­sive­ly seri­ous, and it’s com­fort­ably one of the best films to come out of Hol­ly­wood in years. But, dis­ap­point­ing­ly, that’s all it is. When it could and should have been so much more substantial. 

You can see the trail­er for Tár here:

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