Cate Blanchett stars in Todd Field’s “Tar.” The film is propulsive, direct and intense. From the very first second, one feels carried along, drifting, an observer, a fly on the wall, and we can only sit by and watch. This is somewhat uncomfortable but it is a terrific character study. In the manner of a short story by Joyce Carol Oates, this film is disquieting and claustrophobic. Once it begins, it never lets go. As an immersive experience, the film is exclusive and rare, on par with a novel.
Lydia Tar (Blanchett) is a famed composer / conductor who models herself after Leonard Bernstein. She is in a steady relationship with Sharon (Nina Hoss), a violinist. Through word of her assistant Francesca (Noemie Merlant) not to mention emails, Lydia learns of a former protégé acting desperate and having feelings for her. Lydia dismisses Francesca‘s concern and goes about her day to day life which includes treating pianos on the level of intimacy, almost on par with humans or perhaps more so.
Lydia tells Francesca to reject the protégé regarding an orchestra position.
While teaching Lydia brutally chastises a student who leaves in the middle of class. Lydia reaches for her tranquilizers.
Francesca enters Lydia’s house devastated: the protégé committed suicide.
The noose tightens notch by notch as Lydia’s peers begin to believe that Lydia acted in a sexually inappropriate manner with the younger protégé and is responsible for her suicide.
Most everyone turns against her, including Sharon.
Day after day, Lydia attempts to compose. She is bothered by every incidental or superfluous noise. Sound becomes a torment. A laugh turns into a shriek of horror.
Lydia turns to boxing. Her deafening punches stab at the body bag.
This is one film where I can happily say music is a palpable physical force of energy, both light and dark. With a wondrous score by the eccentric Hildur Guðnadóttir (Joker) not to mention sound recorded at Abbey Road Studios, this film is a cinematic experience to only be seen on the big screen for its full impact.
The progression of events depicted are absolutely horrifying. One chance action sets the score of disaster in motion with no resolution in sight.
A single chattering lunch or clink of a wine glass can sound the bell of doom.
Like Wilde’s Dorian Gray, Lydia is propelled into the seedy underground in the hopes of recapturing what is innocent, fresh or life-giving.
Blanchett is first rate. Her character becomes literally possessed on the level of the demonic by her aloofness and ego but also by her pursuit and her lust for the spirit of Music itself.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org