There’s a very real chance that Ingrid Bergman, Meryl Streep and Frances McDormand will soon be getting company on the list of actresses awarded as many as three Oscars by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That’s how impressive Cate Blanchett, a two-time past winner, is in Tár, the first film in 16 years directed by Todd Field, whose previous efforts, In the Bedroom (2001) and Little Children (2006), each garnered multiple acting nominations and a screenplay nom (the former was also up for best picture).
Tár, which Focus Features will release on Oct. 7, had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last week en route to its North American premiere on Saturday night at the Telluride Film Festival’s Palm Theatre, where it played like gangbusters ahead of a festival tribute to Blanchett. The 53-year-old Aussie has given a stunning number of tour de force performances over the years — in films such as The Aviator and Blue Jasmine, for which she won Oscars, as well as Elizabeth, Notes on a Scandal, I’m Not There, Carol and any number of others for which she could have. But it’s hard to imagine that any part has ever demanded as much from Blanchett — or just about anyone else, for that matter — as that of Lydia Tár.
Tár is introduced in the film as an EGOT-winning protégé of Leonard Bernstein. She is the first female principal conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker, an instructor at Juilliard and a new author, as well as a “U-Haul lesbian” (her words), whose relationships with younger admirers (including her ambitious assistant, played by Noémie Merlant from Portrait of a Lady on Fire) eventually come back to haunt her and jeopardize everything she has worked for. (Me Too allegations have rocked the real world of classical music in recent years, though it’s unclear how much, if at all, any of those situations influenced Tár.)
It is truly impossible to think of anyone who could have played this part as effectively as Blanchett, who, in real life and on screen, can’t help but ooze intelligence and gravitas. To play the part of Tár, she apparently learned German, conducting and high-level piano-playing, not to mention many long monologues crafted by Field for his first original screenplay, that help one to convey just how brilliant, singularly focused and conniving this maestro is. It’s a study of power that would impress Robert Caro, and, in the words of THR‘s chief film critic David Rooney, “a clear-eyed consideration of cancel culture,” which couldn’t be a timelier or more debated topic.
The film runs longer than two-and-a-half hours (its full credits are somewhat jarringly shown at the beginning rather than the end, something that critic Guy Lodge found fitting given that the story “hinges on disrupted rhythm and time”). But it seems to have held just about everyone’s interest (though there have been gripes about its third act). The bottom line: Tár is a smart movie for worldly people who are interested in art and artists — including, one would assume, the Academy, which will surely, at the very least, nominate Blanchett’s performance, Field’s screenplay and perhaps more.