“Tar” is a 2022 American film written and directed by Academy Award nominee Todd Field. A brilliant Cate Blanchett portrays the role of the fictitious musical conductor Lydia Tar, who is at the pinnacle of her career when the film opens. “Tar” records the downfall of a maestro. Set in a post #MeToo world, the film narrates how the acquisition of sexual misconduct can torpedo even a respected artist’s career into rubble. Not once in the film is it stated or explicitly indicated that Lydia Tar is a sex offender. But as everyone, in this day and age of social media, is waiting to jump on the bandwagon of woke-ism, being accused is as bad as being guilty. So the film can always be seen and regarded as a subversive discourse that is trying to disarm the cancel culture. On the other hand, like Caryl Churchill’s play “Top Girls” (1982), “Tar” can be read as the life of an ambitious girl from Staten Island who would traverse all boundaries to reach the top. Eventually, it is her arrogance, greed, and ambition that backfires on her and crashes straight down on her face. “Tar” makes you question if the women who have made way for themselves at the men’s table are slowly becoming those men whom they have always hated.
In September 2022, the film premiered at the 79th Venice Film Festival. Cate Blanchett was praised for her performance and received the Volpi Cup for Best Actress. The film was released in a few theaters in the USA on October 7, 2022. Despite being critically acclaimed, it failed to set a grand box office record. The extensive use of jargon and a lengthy runtime might have been the culprits behind the film’s monetary failure. Music is the most important element of the film. It is the medium that tells Lydia’s story better than words could ever do. The audiences get to understand that the only thing that Lydia might love more than herself is perhaps her music and her craft. The cinematography, direction, screenplay, sound design, and editing of “Tar” have been highly praised by critics. It has been considered one of the top ten films of 2022 by the American Institute. The film was nominated for several Golden Globes recently, and Cate Blanchett took home the award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture—Drama. So, if you are a fan of Western classical music and want to delve a little deeper into the politics of that world, you should definitely watch “Tar.” Nonetheless, if you are a fan of Cate Blanchett, like me, you should absolutely watch “Tar.” Blanchett is supported by a stellar cast. Here is the full list:
Cate Blanchett As Lydia Tar
The titular character is a celebrated musical conductor and the first female conductor to lead the Berlin Philharmonic. She is a living legend who has headed all the Big Five orchestras. She is an EGOT composer too; that is, she is one of those rare individuals who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony in her elaborate career. Moreover, she is Ivy League educated, and at 49, she has peaked. The film begins with Tar being interviewed for her book “Tar on Tar” and her upcoming live recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. The spark in Tar’s eyes when she talks about music makes us believe that she can see individual notes as living, breathing entities. She relies excessively on her assistant, Francesca. We learn that she is married to a concertmaster from Berlin named Sharon. They have a daughter called Petra. Lydia Tar seems to be elegant, flamboyant, and, if not arrogant, definitely a personality with the attitude of an artist; she wields the right amount of arrogance and snobbery for a celebrity.
Just when it feels like a perfect picture, the cracks in Lydia Tar’s public mask become prominent. We learn of her acquaintance with a former Juliard (an institution spearheaded by Tar and her friend Eliot Kaplan for training new conductors) student. Though her relationship with this upcoming conductor is kept under wraps, the hush-hush conversations that Lydia has with her assistant give the viewers enough clues to doubt Tar’s role in Krista Taylor’s suicide. As the film progresses, we see Lydia taking special classes at Juliard, where she literally scolds a conducting student named Max for his choices as a conductor, being manipulated by the popular beliefs readily circulated on social media. She is charged with deposition by Krista’s parents for forcing their daughter to commit suicide. Added to that, the incident of her scolding Max is recorded and brutally edited to provide a misogynistic context to what she was actually trying to show. In the meantime, she also gets attracted to her brand new cellist, Olga. She takes Olga to New York when Francesca hands in her resignation. In New York, she faces public humiliation because of her apparent moral depravity.
Lydia Tar possesses all the qualities necessary to become a perfect tragic hero, but her indifference to the people who really care about her, her arrogance, her lack of respect for her roots, her narcissism, and her habit of lying straight on people’s faces never really connect her to the audiences. Therefore, her fall does not give rise to any cathartic sensation in us. In fact, at times, she makes the audience so uncomfortable. That you find yourself rooting for Lydia’s opponents.
Lydia Tar has been portrayed on screen by veteran Cate Blanchett. At this point, Cate Blanchett can be treated as an icon of lesbianism. She is best known for her work in films like “Blue Jasmine,” the “Lord of the Rings” films, etc.
Noemie Merlant As Francesca Lentini
Francesca Lentini is Tar’s assistant and probably her ex-paramour too. She shadows Lydia wherever she goes and takes care of every detail for the smooth and fast functioning of Tar’s life. She is an aspiring conductor too. She keeps track of all of Tar’s movements and correspondences. When Lydia doesn’t promote Francesca to the position of her assistant conductor, Francesca resigns overnight and takes her revenge on Tar by disclosing all of Tar’s communications with Krista Taylor’s parents. We recognize Noemie Merlant from the deeply loved film “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” a film that has become a benchmark when it comes to queer cinema of the recent past. She gave her breakthrough performance in 2016 in the film “Heaven Will Wait,” for which she got a Cesar Award nomination.
Nina Hoss As Sharon Goodnow
Sharon is Lydia’s wife and the concertmaster of the Berlin Orchestra. They together are royalty on the music scene. Sharon’s love for Lydia made her turn a blind eye to Lydia’s extramarital affairs. Sharon had been Lydia’s greatest support as she helped Tar navigate the politics of the Berlin music scene. But as Tar gets accused of sexual misconduct, Sharon becomes estranged and slowly cuts Petra’s ties to Lydia too. Nina Hoss has appeared in films like “Barbara,” “A Woman Named Rosemary,” and “Yella.” She is also a part of the Amazon series “Jack Ryan.”
Sophie Kauer As Olga Metkina
Olga is the brand new Russian cellist who joins the Berlin Orchestra. Tar is enamored by her beauty immediately and tries to pursue her attraction towards the cellist by giving her little perks like trips to America, special solo grooming, etc. She wants Olga to like her romantically, but Olga is smart enough not to be manipulated by Lydia. This is Sophie Kauer’s charming break on the big screen, and hopefully, she will keep up the good work.
Mark Strong As Eliot Kaplan
Eliot Kaplan is an investor and an amateur conductor. He and Lydia run Juliard together. When Lydia’s career falls flat on its face, Eliot is invited as a guest conductor to conduct the live recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. He is publicly attacked on stage by Lydia herself. This is the final blow to her life because it is after this that she has to relocate to the Philippines and begin her life anew. Mark Strong is known for appearing in films like “1917,” “Shazam!” and other popular films.