Tar: is Cate Blanchett movie based on a true story, is Lydia Tar a real person, what is film about - where to watch it

Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tar in Tar (Photo: Universal Pictures)Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tar in Tar (Photo: Universal Pictures)
Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tar in Tar (Photo: Universal Pictures) | Universal Pictures
The film is grounded in reality and tells a gripping tale - but did it all really happen?

Despite box office failings in the US, Tár has been scooping up critical plaudits and awards nominations, and holding the attention of those who are lucky enough to see it.

One big question on the lips of cinemagoers leaving screenings has been whether or not the film is a true story.

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Following its release in UK cinemas, we take a look at whether it really is based on real events. Here is everything you need to know about it.

What is Tár?

In the film, Lydia Tár has ascended the ranks of conducting. She has worked in all of the ‘Big Five’ American orchestras while developing her own compositions, and earned her spot on the coveted and short list of so-called EGOT’s – those who have won all four major awards of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

Now at the height of her career, she holds the prestigious position of chief conductor for the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra, and is preparing for both a book launch and a much-anticipated live performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.

She also runs a mentoring scholarship programme for women – rumoured to be a source of young women with whom she has affairs – and attempts to maintain her domestic life with her partner Sharon, played by Nina Hoss, and their daughter Petra, that is until dark secrets come to light and threaten to make Lydia’s house of cards come tumbling down.

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Tár does feel like a biopic, and Lydia Tár certainly is the sort of character who would merit her own cinematic portrayal in a film titled minimalistically with her own surname.

There are scenes in which her impressive list of achievements are reeled out - the opening, real-time New Yorker interview for instance, or when Tár later inserts quotes from that same discussion into her own Wikipedia page.

The film is also set among real institutions that will be known even to those with little prior classical music knowledge - the Berlin Philharmonic for instance.

Is Tár a true story?

No, Tár is not a true story, and the film charts the downfall of an entirely fictional composer and conductor - one early clue is the mention of “the pandemic” in the film’s opening scene.

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Were Lydia Tár’s story real and recent enough to have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s unlikely such a biopic would have been turned around so quickly.

But you’d be forgiven for thinking that Tar is a real person, and not just because of the film’s brilliant ability to ground its story in reality. Official synopses for the film simply stated that Lydia Tár “widely considered one of the greatest living composer/conductors” without batting an eyelid, and a Wikipedia page for the thunderous conductor even sprang up ahead of the film’s release, before being merged into the film’s broader entry.

A Twitter account called @LydiaTarReal has also appeared in recent weeks, which has provided fans of the film with an entertaining stream of consciousness from its protagonist. However, we have perhaps seen the last of this Twitter account, following a tragic accident at the Oscars:

Tricky marketing perhaps. But a combination of reality-bending PR and a film that deals in the kind of very real professional missteps we’ve seen playing out in real life countless times really help to establish an air of authenticity.

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What has been said about the character?

Both Blanchett and writer and director Todd Field have commented on the character, with the film’s star saying she’d never encountered someone “as elusive and as complex as Lydia Tár.”

Describing how she embodied the character, Blanchett told PA: “I’m very language focused, and, of course, the first quarter of the film is very top heavy with language, but then that sort of peters out into silence. In a way, I started with what she loved. I started with the music, I started with this thing that had kept her alive and kept her sane, and that she was risking losing because of the events that unfold in the film.”

In a statement accompanying a teaser trailer for the film released in August, Field said that he wrote the script specifically for Blanchett, and that if she had said no, "[it] would have never seen the light of day."

The film keeps Tár such a ubiquitous figure by making Blanchett’s performance the focal point of the entire narrative, a decision from the director that makes it abundantly clear just how influential and powerful the character is.

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“There were very simple rules for the film,” said Field when asked why he wanted to make Tár such an intense character study. “Trying to understand why is this happening – this character got into whatever she did, like all of us, because she had a great love for something, she had a love for music, it was going to transform her and change her. And it did.

How can I watch it?

Tár is in UK cinemas now.

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