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Throughout the new film written and directed by Todd Field, its title character, a person of exceptionally sensitive hearing and possibly perfect pitch, is almost constantly distracted from her vital activities by extraneous noise. The noises include a doorbell, or something like a doorbell, dinging—our title character, Lydia Tár, almost absently reproduces its two notes on her piano after being ruffled by them—a metronome ticking, people pounding on doors, and more. And the noises are rendered via an audio design that is often disturbingly precise in its directional placement—we are as startled by them as Lydia is.
Played with fierce and seamless commitment by Cate Blanchett, Lydia Tár is one of the wonders of the classical realm. She is a virtuoso pianist, an earnest ethnomusicologist, and a purposeful popularizer—she is apparently a member of the EGOT club, which isn’t a common achievement for a classical person. And as a protean conductor about to conclude recording a cycle of Mahler symphonies, Lydia needs to get away from noise to do the work to which she almost stridently commits herself.
“TÁR” is that rarest of items: a prestige awards contender that’s also a genuine art film. The narrative unspools in an insinuating, sometimes enigmatic way; Field is quite a distance from the bluntness of his last feature, 2006’s “Little Children.” Certain shots and sequences show compositional affinities with Stanley Kubrick (for whom Field worked, as an actor, in 1999’s “Eyes Wide Shut,” Kubrick’s final film) and Tarkovsky. But the formal virtuosity on display here is in a quieter register than in many other such films. That’s true for the note-perfect acting as well.
Much has already been written about how the film’s narrative draws from emerging stories of abusive and exploitative behavior by powerful people in the arts. Are the sublime aspirations and achievements of a Lydia Tár vitiated by her problem-person behavior, or is she finally In The Right Anyway? As it happens, Field’s film is almost equally skeptical of the culture from which a figure like Tár arose as it is of the contemporary strain in culture that seeks to debunk her. In the end, "TÁR" is not a diatribe or parable, but an interrogation, one that seeks to draw the viewers in, and compel them to consider their own place in the question.— Glenn Kenny, rogerebert.com
Fri & Sat January 27 & 28, 7:00 PM; Sun January 29, 2:00 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium
United States of America; 2022; in English, French, German, Tagalog; 158 min • official site
Director: Todd Field, Writer: Todd Field, Cast: Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant, Sophie Kauer, Mila Bogojevic