Venice 2022

Tár review – a stratospheric star vehicle for Cate Blanchett

The actress gives one of her greatest performances in Todd Field's spiky story of a celebrated composer whose life begins to unravel

You don’t want to get on the bad side of Lydia Tár. She may entice you in with a wolfish smile – flirty eyes that make you blush, lulling you into a false sense of security. But don’t tweak the tail of Lydia, also known as Linda, or Maestro, or Dad, or bitch, depending who you ask. With a practised flick of her conductor’s baton, she can tear you down with a cutting rebuttal as steely as her expertly pressed grey suits.

Todd Field’s Tár is a searing star vehicle for Cate Blanchett, gifting the actor with a fascinating, thorny character to bloodily untwine across an airy 158-minute runtime. She plays a mythical conducting genius, who has achieved the EGOT and has spent several stints at celebrated philharmonic orchestras worldwide, now settled in Berlin with her long-suffering partner Sharon (Nina Hoss) and their adopted daughter Petra. Other members of her entourage include personal assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant), who is equal parts resentful of and in love with her type-A boss; elsewhere, a series of pretty young things catch Tár’s eye, testing her professional boundaries with increasingly wobbly reserve.

Field packs a lot into the long runtime, with no scene wasted in building Tár up so high until the house of cards threatens to topple over. There are several moments that make you want to stand up and joyfully exclaim “kino!” – particularly in Blanchett’s high-camp freak outs, acerbic monologues and impassioned conducting scenes. There’s little subtext to be found, though, and there are moments where you wish he’d reined it in a little. Do people really run out of buildings to throw up when they’re shocked? Would you really punch someone in the face in front of a crowd of gowned dignitaries? Tár works it best when it’s a little reserved, a little cerebral, bypassing the low-hanging fruit.

Particularly, its exploration of Tár as a flawed hero who is so sure of her perhaps outdated opinions and who continually crosses the line with her impressionable students – courting their affection in exchange for preferential treatment – is done well, a rare film that dips its toe into the shark-infested waters of identity politics in a way that acknowledges its grey-shaded complexity. But this is not merely the Blanchett show, either: graceful, shrewd supporting roles from veteran Julian Glover to newcomer Sophie Kauer all contribute to the film’s carefully calibrated sense of style, a film that feels rooted and real despite the magnitude of the character and star at its centre.

Tár, ultimately, is about the extent to which we cling to old styles and cave in to new rules: about taking responsibility for one’s actions when in a position of power, and how to find meaning in your life and work when you’ve already shattered the glass ceiling and risen into the blinding sun. Amid absorbing cinematography and a wholly original, frequently slippery and always fascinating screenplay, this is work of real, admirable heft.

Tár was screened as part of the Venice Film Festival 2022. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

Where to watch

More Reviews...

Athena review – relentless kineticism fuels this deeply political urban war movie

Romain Gavras's story of violent social rage is one of the most technically ambitious and proficient films of the year

Avatar review – spectacular visuals undone by a slight and sappy story

James Cameron's epic blockbuster, the highest-grossing movie ever, is back in theatres to drum up anticipation for the coming sequel

Ticket to Paradise review – rom-com revival is an all-too familiar trip

George Clooney and Julia Roberts thrive as bickering divorcees, but they're let down by a script that can't match their chemistry

In Front of Your Face review – Hong Sang-soo’s lyrical ode to humanism

In his latest lo-fi effort, the prolific Korean filmmaker reflects on life and mortality in a rather altruistic way

Features

Every David Cronenberg Film, Ranked

To mark the release of Crimes of the Future, Steph Green sorts the body-obsessed auteur's vast filmography from worst to best...

I Was Born to Be a Mother: Jennifer Garner and Juno

As Juno turns 15, Yasmin Omar explores how the actress' perfectly pitched turn as an adoptive mother helped to define her career

American Prophet: Jodie Foster and Contact

To coincide with the 25th anniversary of Robert Zemeckis' sci-fi classic, Luke Walpole looks back on its perfectly pitched lead turn

Stream With a Theme: The Best Jane Austen Films

As the latest take on Persuasion comes to Netflix, Steph Green highlights some of the author's finest screen adaptations to date