TÁR Movie Review and Movie Synopsis (2022)
I remembered a recording made in the 1980s by the sample-based Dadaist music group Negativland, in which they lamented, “Is there an escape from the noise?” In our world, as in the world of this film, in this case, the answer is “No”. Or maybe “Not entirely”. The world of Lydia Tár – evoked with incredible agility, grace and mystery by Field in her first feature film in 16 years – is one in which near-impossible escape is attempted via music. Specifically classical music, and more specifically classical music that aspires to the sublime.
Played with fierce and unflinching commitment by Cate Blanchett, Lydia Tár is one of the wonders of the classic kingdom. She is a virtuoso pianist, a serious ethnomusicologist and a determined popularizer – she is apparently a member of the EGOT club, which is not a common achievement for a classical person. And as a protean conductor about to finish recording a cycle of Mahler symphonies, Lydia needs to get away from the noise to do the work she almost vehemently commits to.
Is the applause loud? In the film’s opening scene, a nervous Lydia enters the stage of a concert hall for a ravishing tribute. She is not there to perform, but to be interviewed, as part of one of those cultural festivals that the major metropolitan centers organize from time to time. His interlocutor is New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, who plays himself in a performance perhaps lacking in self-awareness – the glint in his eye as he interviews Lydia is that of an inveterate know-it-all, serenely satisfied with himself -same. The exhibit here sets Lydia’s cultural status in a stone of sorts, so the viewer eagerly awaits a film that will show how the sausage, so to speak, is made.
Lydia is a busy person. She has a quiet, brooding, and efficient assistant named Francesca (Noémie Merlant) whom Lydia addresses with less warmth than most humans would apply to Siri or Alexa. Francesca watches Lydia from afar, at an advanced leadership seminar at Juilliard, passionate and profane riffs against aspects of identity culture after one of her students proclaims with flat and banal arrogance that as a queer BIPOC, they cannot get along with Bach, because of the composer’s patriarchal lifestyle. As she prepares to leave New York for her base in Berlin, where she will record the last symphony of her Mahler cycle, the Fifth, she has lunch with fellow conductor Elliot Kaplan (Mark Strong), who chats with her like a peer but clearly envies her. She tells him of her plans for the Berlin orchestra, including the “rotation” of an older colleague whose ear isn’t what it used to be.