Only Cate Blanchett could play this role. Director Todd Field credited "Tár," this furious psychological drama about the collapse of a star conductor, to Blanchett, as he has said in interviews. The 53-year-old plays the fictional character Lydia Tár, a world-famous and highly respected conductor. We encounter her first as a genius ruling over the orchestra like a goddess over mortals. In the end we will witness their downfall.
This film tells about power - how it changes you, but also the environment. And what happens when you abuse them. Blanchett is at the very center of "Tár". Watching Lydia exert her power, not always being able to control her impulses, becoming increasingly shaken and ultimately self-destructive, leaves one breathless. This film lasts over two and a half hours - fortunately.
A diva at the peak of her fame
The story begins with a conversation on a stage that Lydia Tár has with a reporter. She works as chief conductor of a large orchestra in Berlin. In the conversation it becomes clear: She has achieved everything that is possible. She has worked with the world's greatest symphony orchestras, won all the prestigious awards, is now publishing a book about herself. Soon she will also be recording Gustav Mahler's 5th Symphony live with her orchestra. All of her Mahler recordings will then appear as a box set - another milestone in her career.
But one thing in this flawless life doesn't go so smoothly, even if we don't first learn what it is. A woman who has had contact with the conductor in the past writes her desperate emails. Lydia's assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) asks her whether she really shouldn't answer. Lydia says no - which she might regret later.
Something is following Lydia. On various objects, for example a book or a metronome, she sees a recurring geometric pattern that seems to disturb her. She wakes up at night and hears noises that may not be there. In private, she loses the control she has mastered so well in public.
She flirts with younger women
But Lydia doesn't really separate private and professional life. It sounds as if she has more often flirted with women who reported to her professionally. In the orchestra she prefers a young cellist who applies because she finds her attractive. Meanwhile, things are not going so well with her partner Sharon (Nina Hoss), who is the concertmaster in the orchestra. Sharon seems bitter, while Lydia flirts with a young woman on a trip to New York, for example.
Only with Sharon's young daughter Petra and Lydia's predecessor in Berlin, an old conductor named Andris Davis, does the conductor show her gentle, loving side.
We see them very differently during a master class at the renowned Juilliard School in New York. A student there tries his hand at conducting a piece by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir - a musical selection Tár pokes fun at. She asks the black student why he doesn't want to try it with a canonical figure like Johann Sebastian Bach. He replies that as "BIPOC, pan-gender person" he can't relate to this misogynistic white man.
The conductor is caught up by her past
Tár scoffs at this view, which does not separate the author from the work, and launches into an impromptu lecture about it. A video recording that shortened and exaggerated their statements will later haunt the social media and contribute to Tár's downfall.
Her abuse of power catches up with the conductor. It turns out that the mysterious woman with the emails is a former protégé of Tár's, whom she probably didn't treat well. Now that has consequences.
"Tár" deals with the current topic of abuse of power in the cultural world, but the focus always remains on the main character. Cate Blanchett gets a chance to show off her talents in the film - which has garnered her Best Actress awards at the Golden Globes, the Baftas and the Venice Film Festival, among others. Another award could follow at the Oscars.
At the same time, the viewer gets an insight into the world of classical music. The equipment and references in "Tár" are so specific that the question of whether "Lydia Tár is a real person" has been typed into Google many times.
The drama is also peppered with some almost spooky elements. It's not always clear what really happened and what Lydia may have just imagined. Todd Field has created a multi-layered film - which is why some critics have recommended watching "Tár" several times.