Todd Field’s return to cinemas hits all the right notes.

Cate Blanchett gives us one of her best (Oscar-caliber) performances as a conductor of a German orchestra, who has been labeled “one of the greatest composers of all time,” and ends up having her reputation damaged by allegations. Her name is Lydia Tar, and she uses her words to keep the art of music at intended ambiance, while dealing with personal matters in her life.

The movie “Tar” is also the first film Todd Field has directed since “Little Children.” 16 years. Well, I say: it was worth the wait, because it takes its time to share with us its passion for classical music, its interests in the leading lady, and how it all comes crashing down. The audience is sitting with anticipation as the story unfolds, and so am I.

We begin with an interview at The New Yorker, as the audience in both the theater and show are in anticipation about what the moderator will ask Tar, and what she’ll respond. It feels so genuine-like we’re actually at the event and acknowledging the wisdom she has on classical music-and seeing it in a theater is beyond exhilarating.

Here are some of the things going on in Tar’s life.

  • The composer has students at Juilliard, whom she insults about how they try to aim high. One of them has the balls to tell her off, and leave class.
  • She has a lover-her lead violinist-named Sharon Goodnow (Nina Hoss)-with a little girl named Petra (Mila Bogojevic), who uses her dolls as a makeshift orchestra.
  • She has a past with a young would-be composer named Krista Taylor (Sylvia Flote), who eventually kills herself.
  • Her assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) is also a would-be composer, who gets rejected by Lydia, who says she needs someone with “more experience.”

“Tar” is a movie that runs for less than 3 hours, which allows us to see the world she lives in, and how she rises to the top and falls below. There are moments that shock the audience, moments that keep us involved, and moments of great wonder. There are even moments that almost resemble “My Dinner with Andre,” when she has a small lunch with her benefactor and fellow conductor Elliot Kaplan (Mark Strong). Everything about this movie is unpredictable, and has the audience pondering on what will come out of her life through her fame and downfall.

Blanchett is the right actress to play this fictional composer, because this Australian actress is able to portray American characters, and adjust to moods and pathos, especially when her character speaks in German, too. She exploded with great intensity in “Blue Jasmine,” and she explodes here with something daring and compelling. Field directs her with the greatest of ease and he also writes her with a complex and unlikable personality. And she also has universally excellent support from Merlant and Hoss, who both have characters trying to stay in her world. This is a challenging drama that tests our patience and adaptations.

I’m not that big into classical music, but I still find it to be artful. “Tar” is artful, when we see what goes on during and outside the musical performances. And as you finish watching this movie, you start to ponder what will become of her life, given the circumstances. It’s a reflection on life in the orchestra world, whether or not we perform in them.

Rating: 4 out of 4.

Now Playing in Select Theaters and Expanding This Month

Categories: Drama, Music

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