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Tár review – Cate Blanchett dazzles as monstrous maestro

The genius of Todd Field’s superb Tár comes from the way the film-making echoes the treacherously seductive and mercurial nature of its central character. Lydia Tár (an electrifying Cate Blanchett) is a dazzling talent: a world-class conductor and composer with a towering ego to match her formidable professional reputation. She describes herself, in a rare, entirely insincere moment of self-deprecation, as “a U-haul lesbian”, but in fact she is one half of a Berlin Philharmonic power couple: her partner is the lead violinist, Sharon Goodnow (Nina Hoss).

Tár is magnificent. At the same time she’s a monster, a capricious narcissist who charms a series of young women, all rising stars in classical music, who subsequently find their careers stymied when they fly too close to the blistering heat of her self-regard.

Field (Oscar nominated for his two previous films, Little Children and In the Bedroom) brings a slippery complexity to proceedings. Is Tár the slow-motion car crash of a cancellation? The crash and burn of hubristic ambition? A supernatural thriller? A Shakespearean tragedy about a powerful individual driven to the brink of madness by the niggling attrition of guilt? There’s also a mean-spirited crackle of humour here and there.

It’s a phenomenal picture, supported by top-tier crew, from Bina Daigeler’s costumes (Tár’s tailored suits are a kind of intellectual armour) to Florian Hoffmeister’s lithe camerawork, which captures symphonies of discomfort in the musicians, starting in the string section with a stricken, shamed Sharon, and answered by a flutter of uncertainty that spreads through the orchestra like a scurrilous rumour.

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