Todd Field has been gone for too long. The actor turned filmmaker had an incredible debut with In the Bedroom, followed it up magnificently with Little Children, and since then, has struggled to get projects off the ground. Film after film fell apart, preventing cinephiles from seeing more of this talented man’s work. More than fifteen years later, however, Field is back, with TÁR, an engrossing character study and psychological drama. Armed with surely one of the best performances of the year, Field has a memorable cinematic experience on his hands. Here at the Telluride Film Festival, TÁR represents another very long movie experience, but one that’s not to be missed.
TÁR would be compelling all on its own, but with Cate Blanchett in the title role, something special unfolds before your eyes. Blanchett digs deep to create a layered portrayal of a difficult figure. Throw in learning to conduct, play the piano, and speak some German, and the level of commitment on display is something to behold. If Field was going to have to wait this long to make another flick, boy did he find the right actress to collaborate with.
Lydia Tár (Blanchett), as we learn in the opening sequence that’s one long interview about her career, is considered to be one of the greatest living composer/conductors in the world of classical music. A protégé of none other than Leonard Bernstein, Tár is the first-ever female chief conductor of a major German orchestra. Celebrated widely the world over, she’s a rock star in this field. Trailed by her assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) on the road and supported at home by her partner Sharon Goodnow (Nina Hoss), she clearly expects the world to break her way. So, when Francesa warns her that a former student of hers in Kristine has been sending disturbing emails, she shrugs it off. That dismissal will prove to be the start of her undoing.
When those emails lead to tragedy, a light begins to shine on Lydia like never before. It also doesn’t help that a combative lecture she gave has gone viral. People are calling for her to be canceled, especially as it becomes clear that she’s taken a “special” interest in people like Kristine in the past. In fact, she’s defiant enough to be doing so again, with the talented musician Olga (Sophie Kauer). A mix of supreme confidence and cognitive dissonance has Lydia continually ignoring what should be clear as day, until she no longer has a choice.
Cate Blanchett gives one of the performances of the year here. She’s dialed in as much as she ever has been before. Steely and cutting, she’s also a complex figure, making even mundane scenes fascinating. It’s truly one of the best bits of acting she’s done, to date. Among the supporting cast, there’s limited opportunities for Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, and Noémie Merlant (though all three are good), while Mark Strong has a small role. That being said, through and through, this is Blanchett’s show.
Writer/director Todd Field certainly doesn’t skimp with his return to screens. It’s a tightly controlled and tightly wound picture, running over two and a half hours long, but never losing momentum. Of course, having Blanchett as his lead is a coup, one that elevates everything within TÁR. Field remains curious and clinical with his writing and direction, and here, it fits quite well. If there’s a ding on the film, it’s the pacing dragging a bit in the back half, and meandering a bit in the final section. At the same time, Florian Hoffmeister‘s cinematography, and especially the music from Hildur Guðnadóttir, is exquisite.
TÁR returns Todd Field’s precise vision to screens, with an impeccable Cate Blanchett, to boot, making this one of the 2022 Telluride highlights. It’s a surefire Oscar player for Blanchett and Field, but moreover, it’s one of the most scintillating character studies you’ll see this year.