Cate Blanchett shines, brings fictional composer to life in ‘Tár’

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AP

Cate Blanchett attends the premiere of “Tár” at Alice Tully Hall during the 60th New York Film Festival on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

By Nick Glover, Lifestyle Writer

Editor’s Note: This review will contain spoilers, so read with caution or watch the film and come back later.

“Tár” was a music lover’s dream, but a plot lover’s worst nightmare. 

“Tár” had its extended release on Oct. 28, though it had a limited release on Oct. 8.

The film centers around fictional composer Lydia Tár, played by Cate Blanchett. Tár is the first female conductor in Berlin Orchestra history. 

The film starts with an interview with The New Yorker Arts Reporter Adam Gopnik. In the interview, Tár explains how she is trying to be the first person ever to complete the cycle of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies. 

The first hour and a half deals with Tár’s process of teaching Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, pairing the symphony with the Elgar Cello Concerto, finding new members of her orchestra and other tasks necessary to her job as a conductor. 

At the halfway point of the film, Tár starts to show signs of mental deterioration, beginning to hear sounds that are not there and having a repeating nightmare. As this is happening, Tár’s reputation starts to get attacked due to allegations of grooming, sexual misconduct and non-politically correct rants. 

This shift from what feels like a music documentary to a hardcore drama feels abrupt. For a film that is over two and a half hours long, it feels like this second half needs another 30 minutes of a slow build to make the ending impactful. 

The juxtaposition of the film’s slow start, beginning with a 20-minute-long interview, to the second half flying through seemingly all of the necessary plot points simply does not work. 

After a relaxed, almost slice-of-life beginning, the film’s rapid acceleration feels out of place. 

Moreover, this acceleration glosses over most of the real, meaty plot points, such as Tár’s fight with the conductor replacing her or her wife leaving her, leaving the plot points to be forgotten or not understood by the audience. 

A film certainly does not need to be consistent in pace or have a crystal-clear plot for it to be understandable or effective. Rather, the pace and the clarity need to work in tandem with the film to help build an experience for the viewer.

While some might think that the confusion in the second half mimics Tár’s mental break, the confusion made by film Writer and Director Todd Field is not one that pairs well or effectively with Tár’s mentality. 

Instead, this obscurity pulls the audience out of the film. 

The audience is not afraid or unwilling to do work to understand a film; they simply will not do the director’s work for them to understand the film. 

This is the case in “Tár.” The failures of this film come in the way that, though the audience may have theories or some ideas of what is going on, the film does not confirm any theories. It does nothing for the audience.

For example, if the audience believes that the new orchestra director stole Tár’s sheet music, the film does not show any of her characteristic markings to help the audience feel comfortable with the jump of offscreen action. 

For the audience to understand the plot of the film, they need to take these jumps, but if there is no way for them to confirm their suspicions, the plot falls flat. 

To be fair to the film, Blanchett’s acting is stellar. She took a mediocre script and created a phenomenal character. Tár felt like a real person, especially during the first hour. The interview with Gopnik felt real. 

Honestly, the interview was probably the best part of the film.

That is not an insult to the rest of the film. Rather, it is a compliment to the normal aspects of Blanchett’s character. Tár feels real because Blanchett is able to center the small, intricate details of a composer, musician and person.

Of course, being a film about music, the film’s musical score itself is magnificent. The selections of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and the Elgar Cello Concerto are perfect for this film. 

The scenes where the orchestra is performing are elegantly shot and it is very clear that Field and the whole cinematography team truly wanted to show the beauty of Mahler’s music. 

The easiest way to put it is that a music lover, specifically of Mahler and Elgar, should watch the first hour and a half or so. For standard movie-goers, it is unclear whether this is a movie to recommend.