In which Cate Blanchett finally nearly plays an actual person.
My Ma’s review is more succinct and spot-on than anything I could hope to write:
The start was too slow, and the end was too fast.– my Ma on Tár
Coming out of the theatre, she also asked me if Berlin is “really like that” (dirty, dark, and a bit horrifying)… and, well, yeah it is. Yet even the set design’s exaggerated decrepitude, the often gothic-expressionist lighting, and the inventively creepy sound design in those Berlin scenes, pale in theatricality next to Cate Blanchett.
As lauded as her performance in this movie is – and at this stage of her career, her exploitation of her own sleekness is virtuosic (her physicality in the scenes of her conducting are mesmerising) – there is nothing actually human about it. I’ve known a few real-life Lydia Társ, and even experienced up-close the power dynamics and cultish personae they can weave, so I can appreciate why many people believed her character was based on a real person, this performance is (forgive me) off-key. I was taken out of the film from its opening scene, where Lydia is being interviewed: in the scene, Lydia is performing, playing the part of a “genius artist” being interviewed, pulling from the highest air whatever pretentious threads she can spin together into sound bytes that will sell her persona. Blanchett’s performance, however, is one step too far removed: it’s a performance of a theatrical performance of a person who is giving a performance; none of the words are pulled from anywhere, nothing is threaded together; she is reciting the words in the Tár screenplay, with no discernible choices or intention, like unloading so many objects without consideration of how they might fit together, much less that they – or their speaker – might have something to say.
It’s baffling that such an established and acclaimed Hollywood actor and theatre co-director might be doing straight-up theatre kid. But let’s consider her film-making career: has Cate Blanchett ever played anything other than… let’s call it ‘heightened’? Meredith in The Talented Mr Ripley, Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings, Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator, Bob Dylan in I’m Not Threre, Carol in Carol, Lou in Ocean’s Eight, Hela in Thor Ragnarok, Brie in Don’t Look Up – performances of performances, all. From class affectation to etherial elusiveness, from impersonation to scenery-chewing, most of them iconic and/or a lot of fun, these roles all share one common trait: none of them is an actual person, and none of them has shown (or required) Cate Blanchett to play an actual person.
Perhaps I’m simply describing a character actor – but is that how Cate Blanchett, especially Cate Blanchett in Tár, is regarded?
Writer/director Todd Field has created a tactile world, populated by nuanced, claustrophobic performances, and haunted by pretences of art, status, ruthlessness, and role-playing. In such a tailor-made starring vehicle, Tár offered Cate Blanchett a unique opportunity to show, and an exciting chance for us to see, something genuinely human. There’s a scene toward the end of the film – one of the “fast” moments my Ma rather liked – where Lydia’s brother calls her by her real name, and the stunned expression on Lydia’s face is stunning to the audience, too. It’s a short moment of effective storytelling, and then it’s gone. Those are the moments we could have done with more of, and would have happily traded for trimming a few earlier scenes which, while no less compelling or striking, are less revealing (of performer, and therefore character) and perhaps dragged longer than they needed to.