November 4, 2022 | CULTURE | By Frances Thyer | Illustration from The Catalyst archives

There is a balance of beauty and perfectionism in classical music — the same type of unnamed, painstaking allure can be found in Tom Field’s “Tár”. Both protagonist Lydia Tár and the film itself seems to have a fascination with sound and structure, as diegetic sounds of metronome ticks and dishwasher dings are continuously brought to our attention. The film is both an ode to the profundity that music holds, and the power of devastation it brings forth.

Played by actress Cate Blanchett, Tár is one of the foremost composer-conductors in the world. The narrative arch shadows the process behind Tár’s upcoming live recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony; the fastidious tuning of the symphony echoes in the meticulous nature of Tár’s ongoing self-destruction.

With a specialty in depiction of intimate marriage conflict, director Tom Fields once again succeeds in creating tangible tension in his characters’ personal spheres; Lydia’s closeness with her daughter is gradually undermined by the slow unraveling of Tár’s relationship with her wife Sharon, played by Nina Hoss.

Tár’s assistant Francesca, Noémie Merlant of “Portrait of a Woman on Fire”, is an incredible supporting woman to Cate Blanchett and Nina Hoss, with each actress providing a unique perspective. Indeed, Field says in an interview that there are four lenses through which the audience should see the story: “Tár”, Sharon, Francesca, and the unseen gaze from behind the camera. Given the unfamiliarity of professional philharmonics to most, their ability to seamlessly bring the audience into that world is critical to the film’s effectiveness.

As Field’s explains, “you don’t really need to understand what [Lydia] knows, you just have to believe that she knows it”.

The underbelly of the music industry is brought to light in “Tár”, where there is a constant theoretical debate as to the consequences of actions perpetrated by the brilliant. In the first two thirds of the film, gender and sexuality are boldly yet incisively addressed as well through the life of the prominent lesbian composer-conductor.

However, once the film achieves its greatest moment of tension during the live performance of Mahler’s symphony, the other shoe seems to drop. The observational assessment of Lydia and her relationships turns into an odd torture for our protagonist, convoluting an otherwise well-orchestrated narrative.

What seems to come forth most clearly from the film is its inquiries into the archetype of the “genius” character without providing all the answers. Are true geniuses allowed to surpass the laws of normal behavior? Can brilliance diffuse responsibility? While the film’s structural downfalls do necessitate some criticism, “Tár” deserves appreciation in its thematic effectiveness and courage to ask demanding societal questions.

“Tár” is now playing in theaters.

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