A review for those who’ve already seen ‘Tár’

Director: Todd Field
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, Mark Strong
Genre: Drama, psychological
Duration: 2h 38m
Rating: A


Based on an original script by Todd Field, ‘Tár’ follows the troubled but gifted concert conductor Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett). Lydia is climbing the ladder of success, but her unchecked power threatens to unravel her relationships with those around her. The past is haunting her too and she must deal with a mysterious woman she used to know.

Cate Blanchett’s magnetic performance

Cate Blanchett is marvellous as the eponymous conductor. She is menacing when she feels threatened by a potential rival. But she can be compassionate, as seen in the jogging scene when she hears a scream and runs to help. She can be conceited and occasionally bewitching. The impressive opening scene that goes on for fifteen minutes has Lydia sit down for an interview. The way Blanchett carries herself here feels so natural and expected of a decorated conductor and composer. You can tell the ‘Elizabeth’ actress closely studied concert maestros, with the way she moves her arms during a performance, or the way she delivers a lecture in a breathtaking scene.

At times, Lydia has an air of affected pompousness that can irritate a viewer. But perhaps, that was intended because Tár is not a protagonist. At least not in a conventional sense. She is an anti-hero or even a villain. But a funny one.

The supporting cast

‘Tár’ has a critically acclaimed cast that includes German film star Nina Hoss (‘Phoenix’) as Lydia’s live-in partner and violinist, French actress Noémie Merlant (‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’) as Tár’s assistant, and Mark Strong (‘Cruella’) as a philanthropist and amateur conductor. The actors, especially the former two, give natural, unshowy and strong performances that help tether the film’s premise to reality and act as a foil to the titular character’s larger-than-life personality.

Another actor who makes the film so watchable is Sophie Kauer as Olga. Olga is a young and gifted cellist who becomes Lydia’s object of affections… and maybe more. Kauer, a real-life professional cellist, is a breath of fresh air who provides the film with a sense of youthful levity. It is astonishing that this is her first film appearance because she fixes the camera with her gaze like a veteran. She is meant to be a film star.


The cinematography is at times sublime, and sometimes menacing. The camera movements are slick and come in handy in scenes with long, uninterrupted takes which inject tension into the screen. There is a sense of coldness, prestige and style, which render the world of classical musicians convincing and lived-in. Also, Lydia’s Berlin apartment is to die for.

The use of negative space and darkness shifts the gears of this movie’s genre to horror. Then there’s the extremely low angle shot of Lydia conducting an orchestra which imbues the character with a sense of heightened ego and even madness, issues that the character deals with for the rest of the film.

Supernatural elements

Spoilers ahead

Krista, a once brilliant student under Lydia, has been played with like a toy then blacklisted by Tár. Why? Maybe it was jealousy. Lydia, who once had an affair with the young redhead Krista, was perhaps threatened by her undeniable conducting skills and thought Krista might replace her one day. So when Tár’s abusive tactics lead Krista to take her own life, the film becomes more engaging and tense. Even spooky. Like it or not, it is now a supernatural story.

While some viewers see ‘Tár’ as a psychological thriller, I think Krista’s ghost was real. The tragic woman is a Rebecca figure; we never see her except in a photo where her auburn hair partially conceals her face, and her single eye is exposed, looking back at the camera with an unsettling ferocity, almost challenging it. She wasn’t just like any musician. She had zeal. You can’t simply kill off a woman with this much fire. And yet, Krista was driven to her death.

Once you do unspeakable wrong to someone built for greatness, it will come back to you. And the way Krista’s ghost gets revenge on Lydia is merciless.

It starts with random noises in Lydia’s house at night. The annoyed Lydia can’t sleep. Then the metronome starts playing inside a cupboard even though no one touched it. Then she and her little daughter start having nightmares. Her relationship with her partner Sharon collapses. And one day, a weak, ailing woman in the conductor’s neighbouring apartment dies. Almost as if a malevolent spirit’s presence has affected all that is weak and attracts darkness.

Horror or psychological drama?

I loved that it was never clear if it was truly a ghost or just inevitable things that happened as a consequence of Lydia’s power-hungry tendencies. Her book of compositions goes missing. Did she just misplace it or was it Krista from beyond the grave? It could be a misplacement. Everybody onscreen is relatively doing well in their lives. They have snazzy apartments, tailored clothes and a glamorous job. But the film feels so creepy and disturbing, and you are at the edge of the seat anticipating something to go horribly wrong but you can’t pinpoint why it is so. Which is why you have no choice but to settle for an extra sensory explanation.

Field is brilliant in making us feel the weight and horror of a wronged woman’s death without showing us the enigmatic artist. The last time I felt this scared at a non-horror movie was Charlie Kaufman’s ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’.

The humour

And while ‘Tár’ can be dark and hair-rising, what makes it exceptional is the slight jokes here and there that take you off guard. Lydia is funny in spite of being uppity and cruel. More than once I found myself laughing at the way she reacted to people that pierce through her steely persona and irk her. It reminded me of Blanchett’s performance in ‘Blue Jasmine’. You can tell Todd Field was having fun directing the doyen in those scenes. And the humour in the closing scene is undeniable, having been declared by many viewers to be “the best closing scene ever”.

Noémie Merlant stars as Francesca Lentini in director Todd Field’s TÁR, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

The #MeToo commentary

And lastly, one can’t simply ignore the #MeToo scandals and abuse in higher positions while discussing this film. ‘Tár’ has real world themes like sexual predation, power trips and blacklisting that happens in glamorous institutions. But, like real-world predators, Lydia is not a cardboard cut-out villain. She can be a normal person, even likeable, who’s looked up to, with a bottomless pit of charisma. We, the audience, are seduced by her operations on the stage.

‘Tár’ shows how the people the media hates have a life outside of the scandals, a life that goes on even after their wrongdoings are exposed.

Sometimes, one wonders why a woman was casted as the cold-blooded classical musician when male musicians have been known to be closer to an obsessive, egotist Tár figure. Is it because casting a man as Tár would have been too on the nose, and would force people to see it as a #MeToo film? Does the choice of a woman abuser help transcend the film beyond the expectations we place on it, forcing us to see unequal dynamics through a new perspective? This pristine drama is a jumping point for many debates to be had in the next few decades.

The views expressed in this article are that of the reviewer and do not reflect EastMojo’s position.

Also Read | Recycled and uninspiring: Why ‘Pathaan’ is a yawn fest

Trending Stories

Latest Stories

Leave a comment

Leave a comment