“If Bach’s talent can be reduced to his gender, birth country, religion, sexuality, and so on, then so can yours.”Lydia Tár
Todd Field’s third film, after 15 years of unrealised projects, is an astonishing work of psychological intrigue and majestic musical performance that never speaks down to its audience, instead trusting the viewer to engage and form an opinion. Blanchett is perfect as the troubled maestro, fictional conductor-composer Lydia Tár, internationally renowned yet manipulative and domineering. From the marketing, one would be forgiven for believing Tár is a biopic, and some female conductors have bemoaned the choice not to shine a light on the rare women at international-level conducting. From the interview that opens the film, it is clear that Field’s focus is not on Tár as a female conductor but on the dynamics of identity and power. She wants to be judged on her skills in isolation, berating a Juilliard student’s identity politics in expressing distaste for composers with problematic pasts, yet her hypocrisy emerges a few scenes later when she adopts the same approach in discussing Schopenhauer. The central use of Mahler’s work is deliberate, given his own abuse of power in restricting his wife’s work as a composer. By writing Tár as a lesbian, making both the perpetrator and potential victims female, Field forces the viewer to remove misogyny from the equation (notwithstanding the overtly masculine traits conveyed through Blanchett’s body language and her wardrobe). Field deliberately obscures the facts of Tár’s past indiscretions, and it is unclear whether her latest protégé is a matter of lust, an exercise of control over her orchestra, or powerlessness before the effect of her music. As allegations of impropriety undermine Tár’s position (some have reductively labelled Tár a film about “cancel culture”), Field examines the fragility of power in the current climate when pitted against the greater power of public perception. The final act subverts climactic expectations but leaves an indelible impression.