Tár (Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant, Mark Strong) – Katharine Hepburn, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett. We may have reached the time when Ms. Blanchett can be named the successor to the “best actress of her generation” list. With seven Oscar nominations, Blanchett is still far behind the other two. But her two statuettes puts her only one behind Meryl and two behind Kate. Her performance in Tár will certainly be nominated, and she is the frontrunner to win.
Lydia Táris the intense, driven, maniacal conductor of the Berlin Symphony. She is the greatest conductor of her era, a musician of substance who studied under and idolized Leonard Bernstein. She has fought all the battles a woman in a man’s profession needs to fight her way to the top. That journey has taken its toll. Behind that tough, confident, elitist persona is a woman on the brink.
Lydia has a child with her wife or partner, Sharon Goodnow (Nina Hoss), who also is the concertmaster of her orchestra. It’s love and nepotism and dependence and harassment. They are partners for sure, but there is increasingly a power imbalance. As Lydia heads toward the culmination of her career, the completion of the cycle of Gustav Mahler’s work, specifically his Symphony No. 5, she is reaching the brink.
Attuned as she is to music, she starts to hear menacing sounds. She follows a stranger, damaging her face. She fights with Sharon; fires her back-up conductor; denies her assistant, Francesca (Noémie Merlant), the promotion she deserves; and betrays her lead cellist by hand-picking a new, beautiful, young musician to solo with the orchestra in the accompanying piece to the Mahler Fifth Symphony. In the process, she tests her relationships with everyone.
(Spoiler Alert) Lydia is a manipulative, musical genius. She conducts with a physicality that defies description, willing the orchestra to new heights. But her lust for power and perfection ultimately leads to a breakdown and an inevitable descent.
Tár is a haunting, excruciating film with an unforgettable character. Blanchett is brilliant! To prepare, she learned to conduct, to command an orchestra, to learn fluent German, and get physically formidable. It’s the role of a lifetime for an actress whose performances from Blue Jasmine to Bandits to Elizabeth to Notes on a Scandal to The Aviator (as Hepburn) and even Thor create a body of work comparable to the best actresses of their generation.
It’s been 16 years since writer/director/actor Todd Field helmed a major film, Little Children, and over 20 years since his much heralded, five-time Oscar-nominated In the Bedroom. He wrote the Lydia Tár character specifically for Blanchett, and their collaboration is evident.
The film is a tough watch, an emotional experience. Blanchett is glorious!