Friday, December 15, 2023


Film: TÁR
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!

As seems to be happening lately, my life has spiraled out of control over the last two weeks. Primarily, these are health-related concerns of family members that have been taking up a lot of my time, combined with the holidays and increased duties at work. I’ve watched, and this is completely serious, a single movie in the last two weeks, and that movie was TÁR, one of the last two Oscar movies from last year left on my list. A few months ago, I was in great shape on Oscar movies, and suddenly it’s the end of the year and I’m not finished. Well, at least I got the long one out of the way.

TÁR is the story of Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett), the principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. World renowned on the classical music scene and wildly influential. As the film begins, she is being interviewed about an upcoming performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Conducting this will give her all nine of Mahler’s symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic, a true feat in the classical music world. As with any great tragic tale, we start with our hero at the pinnacle of her world and talent, poised for the fall that will take us to the end of the story.

And, ultimately, this is what TÁR is about. Lydia has her irons in a lot of fires, and like many people with a very public life, even a life in the arts far away from the madding crowd, once the tower starts to topple, it all topples together, and it all happens at once. While she prepares to conduct Mahler’s Fifth, several things happen. A heavily edited video of her teaching a class a Julliard is released; the video shows her being wildly racist and sexist, but is clearly a hatchet job. However, at the same time, there are rumors of impropriety. There is the very real tension in her marriage to Sharon (Nina Hoss) thanks to previous infidelity being hinted at, and hinted at again with the arrival of a new cellist (Sophie Kauer).

Of much more import, though, is the suicide of Krista Taylor (Sylvia Flote), a former mentee of Lydia with whom she had a falling out. Lydia’s power in the classical music community left Krista blackballed and unable to perform. With her death firmly blamed on Lydia, the Berlin Philharmonic now has reservations about her continuing in her position. This is further complicated by her ousting her assistant conductor Sebastian (Allan Corduner), which is both controversial and leaves the orchestra in some peril of being leaderless. At this same time, Lydia’s assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant), discovering that she will not be replacing Sebastian despite promises, quits abruptly.

The issue with TÁR is one that I find myself having to bring up frequently. Is that it’s just too damned long. This is a genuinely tragic story, and it’s an interesting one for how far the fall of the title character is and how much it seems not only like a unique story but a story that we see played out in one or another several times every year. But for all of this, it takes a very long time to even get to the place where we start to see the cracks in the façade. TÁR is a whopping 158 minutes, and for all intents and purposes the top hill of the roller coaster and the terrible fall to the bottom happens in the last 45 minutes or so of the runtime. It takes us nearly two hours to set up the freefall, and while the climb to the heights is important, I can’t help but think that it could have been done a good half hour faster.

It’s also very difficult to find fault with it. Cate Blanchett, of course, is virtually flawless, as she generally is. The story is carefully crafted and reveals itself slowly and carefully. The direction is focused, and all of the roles are filled beautifully. Appearances from actors like Mark Strong and Julian Glover are welcome and lovely to see. The music, of course, is flawless, as this is s movie that very clearly trades on its music. I don’t know where I would cut anything, but the damned thing is just too long.

Except I think I do know. There are odd moments throughout the film where we see Lydia experiencing things that may or may not be happening. She hears a woman screaming during a morning run, for instance. She becomes hyper-sensitive to some sounds, has some hallucinations during the daytime and the like. These things are perhaps helpful in creating a world where we are more prone to accept a tragic tale, but these hints into something like madness never feel realized.

It occurs to me that Cate Blanchett is often very interesting in ugly and unpleasant roles. She certainly was exactly that in Blue Jasmine, and she’s very much that here. In a sense, Lydia Tár, who we eventually discover was born as Linda Tarr, is a similar character to Jasmine. In a sense, Lydia is Jasmine made successful.

Is it good? It is, but it’s both far more and far less than it should be.

Why to watch TÁR: Once that rollercoaster starts going downhill, there’s no stopping it.
Why not to watch: It’s far too long for the story it tells.


  1. I do want to see this as it's been hard to find the time to watch this as well as other films.

  2. I know where you're coming from with the family, holiday and work issues. Hoping that everything works out for you and your family.

    1. I keep hoping it will tone down and it never seems to...