[Screen It]


(2022) (Cate Blanchett, Noemie Merlant) (R)

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Drama: The world's greatest living female composer/conductor must contend with mounting pressure on her carefully orchestrated work-life balance.

Lydia Tár (CATE BLANCHETT) is the world's greatest living female composer/conductor, married to Sharon Goodnow (NINA HOSS) with whom she's raising their adopted daughter, Petra (MILA BOGOJEVIC). They live in Germany where Lydia oversees all operations of the renowned orchestra with the help of her assistant, Francesca Lentini (NOEMIE MERLANT), assistant composer, Sebastian Brix (ALLAN CORDUNER), and her investor and wannabe conductor, Eliot Kaplan (MARK STRONG).

She's recorded all but one of Gustav Mahler's symphonies and is mounting that, all while teaching classes and grooming a talented but unorthodox young Russian cellist, Olga Metkina (SOPHIE KAUER). But Lydia's egotistical and confrontational methods rub some people the wrong way, while news breaks that a young conductor she once mentored but then dismissed has since committed suicide. As Lydia tries to balance all of that, she begins to buckle under the mounting pressure.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

Like other music genres, classical music comes in various styles and sizes, and while it once ruled the world of aural entertainment, for most people nowadays it's narrowed down to existing only as the soundtrack for visual media, predominantly in movies and TV shows, but also commercials and so on.

While most of it's traditional in terms of collective notes and flow, sometimes it's a jumble of discordant sounds, all designed to unsettle or challenge the listener, with the composer pulling the strings, so to speak, to maintain control over the arrangement and various included instruments.

That certainly seems to be the metaphorical case with "Tár," a film that fans of classical music and artsy endeavors might love, but could leave mainstream moviegoers frustrated, bored, or confused by what it's all supposed to mean. It's the story of a fictional composer/conductor, Lydia Tár (played by a sublime Cate Blanchett, guaranteed to earn another Oscar nomination and maybe another trophy to add to her current duo).

She's the world's most renowned female in that line of work who seems in control of both her orchestra (and everything that entails) as well as her work-personal life balance. The latter includes her relationship with her wife, Sharon (Nina Hoss), who also plays in that Berlin orchestra, and caring for their adopted daughter, Petra (Mila Bogojevic). The former includes working with a variety of people, be that her investor (Mark Strong) or her assistant (Noémie Merlant).

Written and directed by Todd Field -- who's making his first film since 2006's "Little Children" -- the film showcases its discordant flair from the get-go by going old school and showing all of the end credits first (which might have some viewers wondering if the reels are out of order if seeing this in the theater).

We then see an interview with Lydia (that allows for a backstory character exposition dump), followed by witnessing her in action, be that teaching class (and schooling a socially conscious student), preparing the last installment of her adaptation of Gustav Mahler's five symphonies, or spending time with Sharon and Petra at home.

But her carefully orchestrated (sorry, couldn't resist) life turns out to be taking a toll on her, with that exacerbated by news that a former young conductor protege -- who Lydia kicked to the curb -- has now taken her own life. Coupled with her egotistical and sometimes brash demeanor and behavior, cracks start to form in how others view her, all of which results in sleepless nights where otherwise minor sounds in her home slowly but surely begin to drive her crazy.

It's a great performance by Blanchett who dominates the screen parallel to how her character does the same with her orchestra and all of its trappings. She's certainly what makes it easy to watch, and the rest of the performances are solid across the board, including Sophie Kauer as a new cellist who shows up and threatens to take the incumbent's first chair and maybe some of Lydia's romantic attention (at least that's how Sharon suspiciously eyes what plays out in front of her).

Beyond the general fall from the heights of fame story that fuels biopics around real music legends, it's somewhat unclear what Field is going for in portraying the protagonist's descent. Is guilt overwhelming her? Is she slowly going crazy? Are some parts imagined (there are certainly a few artsy dream moments)? Is it a combination of some or all of that? It's never quite clear.

That curiosity at least holds one's interest in trying to determine what's what, but there's no denying that the film is both too long (at 158 minutes) and ends up incredibly rushed and episodic in the second part of the third act. Much of that feels like it's been heavily edited down from additional material that had to be culled to avoid running up onto and possibly over the three-hour mark.

Of course, Blanchett could have made any extra material just as watchable as what's already present, and some scenes will certainly stick with you long after the last notes have played, even if they only come together to create something good rather than great. And for all of that, "Tár" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Posted October 14, 2022

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