Flix at :48: 'Tár' features a character study of cancel culture
California-born director Todd Field ("Little Children," 2006) has a gracefully deft hand at creating surprisingly intimate relationships through simple dialogue filled with tricky subtext. His new film, "Tár" centers on a successful, famous, classical music conductor played by the always reliable Cate Blanchett ("Nightmare Alley," 2021).
As a woman in a traditionally male position of conductor and composer, named Lydia Tár, Cate Blanchett effortlessly brings to life a confident, snobby, knowledgeable woman whose ideas, ambitions and preferences come first. But nobody stays at the top of their field forever, and the title character's downfall comes speedily and unexpectedly. "Tár" is a brainy, patient character study of a woman whose power and respectability is forcibly changed. But even more specifically, "Tár" is a character study of cancel culture itself and its complicated, yet effective, functions.
Written by Todd Field (and not adapted from any book, play, or news article) this film shows a chronological series of relaxed, urbane, mostly one-on-one conversations that very gradually become more intense, more harsh and more destructive. These organically crafted discussions are shot almost entirely in spacious, minimal interiors hinting at a luxurious emptiness or coldness surrounding the main character, who fills this emptiness with her work (and some other cautiously disguised pursuits).
So much time is spent building the exclusive world of classical musicians, introducing various characters, and showing the private workings of a professional orchestra that "Tár" loses a lot of narrative energy in its two hour and 38 minute run-time. But the long-term focus on the tectonic creation of music serves as a sophisticated metaphor on the equally tectonic creation of multifarious power structures. And the construction of power becomes even more engaging, and more thrilling, when it's torn down.
Todd Field is so graceful at telling this story, because "Tár" is careful to avoid taking any sides about cancel culture or judging any of its characters. That's for the viewers to determine themselves, and that's what makes "Tár" such an intellectual cinema experience.