Lydia Tár, unusual in her field just by dint of being a woman, is a very powerful and complex character. She is talented, driven, dangerous and totally charismatic. Playing the resident conductor of a major German orchestra in Berlin, Blanchett’s grasp of both musical technique and the German language is also very impressive.
The various strands of Tár’s life make for a very complicated film. The opening sequence, where she is being interviewed about her career, is helpful in terms of telling us about her background and climb to fame. We then establish the various strands of her life. Her close friendship with investment banker Eliot Kaplan (Mark Strong) who has musical ambitions himself. Her relationships with her life partner Sharon (Nina Hoss), the orchestra’s concertmaster, with whom she is raising their adopted daughter and with her loyal assistant Noémie (Francesca Lentini) to whom she is mentor.
In one of those early scenes the film shows us Tár’s sadistic streak, when she verbally demolishes the work of the boyish Krista (Sylvia Flote), one the students in her conducting class, playing with her as cruelly as a cat with a mouse. It is a game which will come back to haunt her.
The film also throws an interesting light on the largely unexplored backstage world of music and international orchestras, which is shown as being as cut throat and full of plotting as the worlds of theatre, film, art, dance and other arts.
The spotlight throughout is largely on Tár – Blanchett is hardly ever off screen – but other characters do get a look in. Her Syrian born daughter is important to her – “I am her father” is how she describes herself – though family life appears to be a bit peripheral to the demands of her career. Then there is her ambiguous relationship with the talented young cellist Olga (Sophie Kauer), suspiciously observed by Sharon as she weighs up the pros and cons of the situation and later her ruthless treatment of the orchestra’s longstanding, loyal and elderly reserve conductor Sebastian (Allan Corduner). Tár’s world is one of complex power struggles – struggles which will eventually bring about her inevitable destruction.
The resolution of her fall from grace is however a little confusing and rushed. After a dramatic public tussle on the podium, for the last part of the film we suddenly find ourselves in New York, where we learn a little about her real background and we are then transported to somewhere in the East, Thailand perhaps, for what is a brilliantly ironic ending.
The story is so complex it is sometimes tricky to take on board all the twists and turns of the plot, but despite the film’s length, Blanchett holds the attention throughout with sheer charisma and power.