Todd Field’s Tár, his first film since 2006’s Little Children, documents the idyllic life of the famous, influential, EGOT-holding maestro Lydia Tár, played by Cate Blanchett. Lydia, who thinks she’s at the height of her career, is unknowingly on the cusp of her downfall (or cancellation in 2022 terms). The film has a limited release on October 7, with a wide release on October 28.
In the first act of the film, Lydia teaches a class at Juilliard. The scene is intentionally long and mostly consists of things anyone who is not extremely familiar with classical music understands. But Blanchett captures both an almost sensual passion for Johann Sebastian Bach and loathing for her Gen Z students (one of them says he doesn’t like Bach because he was a privileged white dude) in a rant to her class about separating art from the artist. Throughout the lecture, Lydia moves around the classroom wildly but assuredly, expressing her excitement and her anger with her delicate maestro hands (if you are a fan of hands, there are a lot of hands in Tar). In this scene, Lydia says “everyone is capable of murder.” It’s menacing and, by design, suggests that maybe that’s what this story is leading up to, and throughout the rest of the film, you’re on the edge of your seat wondering when the monster inside Lydia will be activated.
But Lydia is a very controlled person. She has control of her orchestra, her reputation, and her personal life. She wears meticulously tailored clothing. The only thing she can’t control is what other people think and feel and do, but she tries. Later in the film, while in Berlin, where Lydia lives, she approaches a child who has been bullying her daughter at school. A terrifying, towering Lydia, speaking in German, threatens the child. After this, her daughter is left alone. When Lydia is not in control, she loses control of herself and acts irrationally. This happens in small doses throughout the film, ultimately building up to her biggest, career-killing meltdown.
Blanchett is a meticulous, controlled performer. She is such an iconic film actress – one of the rare modern performers reminiscent of the stars of Old Hollywood – because she’s restrained and commanding. Every glance, every movement – from batting an eyelash to tapping a finger – is a conscious decision. In Tár, Blanchett, who has two Academy Awards (for The Aviator and Blue Jasmine) delivers the best performance of her three-decade career. Throughout the film, there’s a sense that you’re watching a documentary about a person you know. Blanchett’s performance is so authentic and so robust that Lydia Tár becomes more real than Blanchett or anyone in the theater. Lydia’s frigid nature, quite ironically, allows Blanchett to let loose and disappear into the role.
Blanchett is still making those controlled decisions in Tár and is still acting in the same way she’s always had, but she’s at her most absorbing and intoxicating because Blanchett’s love of control mirrors Lydia’s and in doing so, allows Blanchett to let go.