Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir-scr Todd Field
prd Todd Field, Scott Lambert, Alexandra Milchan
with Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noemie Merlant, Mark Strong, Julian Glover, Lydia Schamschula, Allan Corduner, Lee R Sellars, Sylvia Flote, Sydney Lemmon, Vincent Riotta, Lucie Pohl
release US Oct.22 nyff,
UK 20.Jan.22
22/US Focus 2h38

hoss merlant strong
venice film fest

Is it streaming?

Overstuffed as it is, this epic drama spends pretty much its entire extended running time poking the audience with various sticks. So watching the film is frequently exhilarating. There is a lot swirling through the dense dialog and drama, as writer-director Todd Field comments on how personal actions and public reactions combine in a toxic brew in the social media age. And Cate Blanchett delivers a jaw-dropping performance.
Almost outrageously accomplished, there are few accolades American composer-conductor Lydia Tár hasn't earned. She also has a loving-needy violinist wife Sharon (Hoss) and alert young daughter Petra waiting in an expansive concrete home in Berlin. But rumours of misconduct are swirling, and her opinions about entitled, offended youth are creating a storm just as she finally conducts the missing piece in Mahler's symphonic cycle and releases her autobiography Tar on Tar. Meanwhile, her assistant Francesca (Merlant) is eyeing a promotion, and Lydia seems to be paying too much attention to cellist wunderkind Olga.
Opening with an extended on-stage interview that recaps her career and allows her to express her carefully thought views, the film's script throws big ideas around like the exceedingly well-studied Lydia drops names. This flurry is often brain-bending, and it's balanced by a skilful sound mix that allows us to hear the tiny noises that keep Lydia up at night. It's her inner journey that ultimately fuels the film's narrative, a victim of her inability to rein in her power. The salient question is whether a genius superstar has too much power in society.

Blanchett storms through virtually every scene, a force to reckon with. It's also a carefully balanced performance, even as it soars to various highs and lows in a spiral that reveals her intelligence, resilience and vulnerabilities. Hoss is also especially notable as Sharon, who is far more insightful than Lydia realises. Merlant has several strong moments too, underplayed to perfection. And smaller roles are just as vivid, including a terrific friend-nemesis role for Strong.

While Field's approach is often deliberately off-putting, with its wordy speechifying and sharply pointed jabs, there's also a delicacy in the way the story unfolds, leaving deeper truths up for discussion. So there are multiple ways to interpret the story depending on the viewer's perspective. But it's a refreshing swipe at an entitled, easily offended culture in which no one is allowed to speak their mind, and criticising an artist requires deleting their art. It's certainly a film that will get under the skin.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 31.Aug.22 vff

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S

send your review to Shadows... Tar Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.

© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall