Todd Field's Triumphant Return to the Screen
There are some films that stay with you, long after you've left the theater, and this weekend I encountered just that with Todd Field's first film in sixteen years, Tár. Not only does it have some of the best direction, writing, music, and cinematography of the year, but it also might be Cate Blanchett's finest performance of her career.
Tár is the first thing Todd Field has directed since Little Children in 2006. To this day, he has three feature films under his belt, the first two both receiving Academy Award nominations, and I don't suspect that Tár will break this trend. On its surface, Tár is a drama film about one of the greatest living composers and conductors, Lydia Tár, played by the incomparable, Cate Blanchett. We learn within the first few minutes of the film that she is not only a graduate of Harvard University but also The Curtis Institute of Music, she has also worked with the "big five" orchestras of the United States, and teaches part-time at The Julliard School. Most impressive of all, Tár is an EGOT winner, having an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award to her name. Watching Tár was probably the first time I ever found myself impressed by an entirely fictional character. She is accomplished, professional, and oh so intimidating.
Lydia Tár is absolutely brought to life by Cate Blanchett who gives probably the best performance of her career so far. Her acting paired with the screenwriting make for some truly extraordinary moments of film. She gives several monologues throughout the movie that are long but never feel meandering because of her deliberate line delivery and incredible performance. Todd Field and Cate Blanchett truly are a match made in heaven and I hope we get to see more of them in the coming years. However, the acting is far from being the only impressive thing about Tár. The cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister is some of the best I've seen this year, with an abundance of long takes and smooth dolly shots. It did not take me long to notice just how many scenes in this film consist of one take, some lasting for several minutes at a time. Truly an impressive feat, both for Hoffmeister, and the cast.
Of course, another one of Tár's strongest aspects comes from the score, composed by legendary Icelandic composer, Hildur Guðnadóttir. The soundtrack not only includes new tracks, but existing, iconic pieces of classical music from composers such as Mahler and Bach. The music is just as intense as the writing and lead performance, and they all compliment each other very well. I'll surely be seeking out the soundtrack on vinyl once it comes out next year.
I did not know pretty much anything about Tár, prior to seeing it in theatres. All I knew was that it was a "music movie," and then I heard elsewhere that it was about cancel culture, which made me nervous. Most attempts to explore the concept of cancel culture in media don't go well, however I'm pleased to say that Tár handles the subject with care and intelligence. Lydia Tár is an accomplished yet flawed person, who often exhibits cruelty and hypocrisy. She is a fierce advocate of separating art from artist, unless it applies to herself. The film dives deep into the politics of being a decent person as well as an accomplished professional, and how lacking one can destroy the other. Overall, Todd Field's film is a refreshing and surprising look into the life of the titular character and the politics of the music industry. After leaving the theatre I had a strong desire to take in more classical music.
Tár is not a movie that will make you laugh, or put a smile on your face, but it will make you think, and you'll be a different person once you leave the theater. Absolutely not a film to be missed this year.