Cate Blanchett stars as Lydia Tár in director Todd Field's TÁR, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

Critics can be very predictable, especially at film festivals where quick opinions often count for more than analysis. This is one of the reasons why the practice of embargoing up to the premiere has prevailed at the big festivals in recent years. The temptation to position yourself on the right side of criticism is too tempting, especially in the age of social media. The urge to express one’s opinion freely also breaks out as spontaneous applause in the cinema hall.

This can be experienced on the second day in Venice in the press presentation of Todd Field’s competition entry “Tár”. In the middle of the film, Cate Blanchett suddenly receives applause from the dark for a sharp-tongued anti-Wokeness tirade by her character Lydia Tár. In front of her students, the renowned conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic has just ridiculed a fellow student who, for moral reasons, still refuses to play the “sexist” Bach today. A sacrilege for Tár, to which she responds with icy contempt.

However, Todd Field’s applause does him an injustice (but not Blanchett for her scene), because the director doesn’t come out as a conservative culture fighter that clearly, on the contrary. “Tár” is an almost breathless study of toxic power relations in a milieu that prides itself on its sophistication: the classical scene in which Tár, who lives with her concertmaster Sharon, played by Nina Hoss, holds an untouchable position. This allows her to exchange her influence for small sexual favors. The way Field circles this life in the ivory tower in long, chilled takes has an almost mesmerizing effect.

So the narcissism and sense of power of Blanchett’s character, who organizes her life as a sum of businesslike relationships, as Sharon once accused her wife of, does little to lend her tirade an aura of righteousness. Rather, this characterization serves as a somewhat cheap template to dismantle Lydia Tár all the more rigorously later. And that’s particularly unfortunate because Field isn’t concerned with scandalizing his MeToo issue or simply reversing the perpetrator narrative. “Tár” is a study of power relations in which the camera is always aware of its power over the characters.

For one-time prodigy Field, Venice could prove to be the place of a celebrated comeback after sixteen years of failed projects. Alejandro González Iñárritu, on the other hand, is an old acquaintance on the Lido, in 2015 he paved the way for the Oscar for “Birdman”. And the parallels to his new, self-declared “epic” comedy “Bardo (False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths)”, one of four Netflix productions in Venice, are obvious: both are about men in a life crisis who are between reality and lose hallucinations.

For Iñárritu, the autobiographical film represents a return to Mexican cinema, which does not mean that “Bardo” – unlike Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” – is therefore more modest. The famous journalist Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho) lives torn between his country of birth and his adopted country America: he has a love-hate relationship with both.

But as personal as “Bardo” claims to be, Iñárritu’s penchant for grand gestures and overconfidence – even to the point of self-mockery – is reminiscent of Todd Field’s title character Tár. As the film suggests, there is little that is really political about his confrontation with the (also mental) colonialism of his neighbors, no matter how high Iñárritu can stack the mountains of corpses. Above all, it is a potent revue of male vanities.