‘Tár’ or — I Missed the Best Joke in the Entire Film?!

“Todd Field is a bloody idiot,” I grumbled to myself as I frantically dashed to the bathroom for a pee halfway during the writer/director’s work about an abusive conductor. “I mean, why does every filmmaker always have to habitually reach for the Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th for their movies? It’s such a tired cliché and bloody Visconti’s got a lot answer for! Christ, it’s so unoriginal it’s like DJ-ing at a house party and putting on Russ Abbot’s ‘Atmosphere’. What easy, obvious go-to music choice is he going to plump for next? Elgar’s Cello Concerto?!”

When I got back into the auditorium I was greeted by the sight of Sophie Kauer blasting away at the Elgar. “Oh, what a surprise!”

The thing is on leaving the cinema my friend turned to me with a grin and exclaimed “You missed the best part of the film when you went to the toilet! Blanchet stops conducting her orchestra and yells at them “For the love of god, don’t make it sound like Visconti!” You’d have loved it!”

It was just as well my friend had told me this as without her saving my ass I’d be sitting here typing away that Todd Field was a complete moron and had fallen into the exact same trap Visconti had fallen head-first into with ‘Death in Venice’ (1971), i.e. rendering Mahler into nothing but sonic kitsch, and completely embarrassing myself in the process. Hmm, looks like this Field guy is a little smarter than I’d given him credit for.

And ‘Tár’ (2022) is a smart (and ass-covering knowingly so) film when it comes to classical and contemporary music: he name checks the great, current composer Julia Wolfe; rightly nails how Bernstein manipulates and extends time (just listen to Lenny’s handling of Elgar’s ‘Enigma Variations’ with the BBC Symphony Orchestra where he stretches out Nimrod to TWICE it’s typical length for proof of that), and there’s a nice Goldsmith/Varèse/Planet-of-the-Apes gag.

Field’s use of sound and silence is also nicely handled, nuanced and sensitive and, thankfully, he doesn’t make the mistake of slathering the Mahler all over the soundtrack, a temptation many other directors would’ve found utterly irresistible… to their ruin!

Indeed, Field’s use of sound is frequently so delicate that the middle-aged couple sitting in front of me turned round and gave me some incredibly dirty looks when I started crunching away on my beef Monster Munch, the noise of treble fortissimo crushing coming from my mouth obliterating Field’s perfectly balanced zones of silence to such an extent I thought an opening-night-of-The-Rite-of-Spring-style-riot would suddenly break out.

What’s also nicely balanced is the ambiguity regarding Tár herself. In fact, it’s sometimes almost TOO ambiguous as I was sometimes thinking “Is this film letting her off the hook? What, exactly, is being said here?” This gives ‘Tár’ a somewhat coy and coquettish tone which could entrance some and infuriate others.

That ambiguity extends to the ending which is both tragic and savagely, and ironically, hilarious. Has Tár found herself in a hell of her own making or has she, possibly, found her true home? Is this her comeuppance or is this the price of blindly following a passion regardless of cost?

What I did learn for certain coming out of ‘Tár’, which I very much liked incidentally, is that you need to watch every minute of a movie before castigating it for Mahler crimes it hasn’t committed along with just how vitally important a good friend is from stop you from making an idiot of yourself in public and having everyone reading this thinking you’re a pontificating asshole who hasn’t a bloody clue what he’s banging about.

Thank god THAT hasn’t happened!



Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.

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Colin Edwards

Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.