In ‘Tár,’ Noémie Merlant Settles the Score


“It’s not a movie with a moral,” Merlant adds. “Todd is amazing at that, at talking about the complexity of human beings and the complexity of the relationships between humans.”

Even without a moral, Tár raises plenty of questions about morality, power, and timely topics like grooming and cancel culture. And, by nature of it being a story about women who are romantically involved with women, it encourages the audience to consider how these issues have both nothing and everything to do with gender. That includes taking a hard look at whether we should (or do) judge Lydia’s behavior differently because she’s a gay woman, because she works in a male-dominated industry, because she has a child, or because of any number of things tied to her identity. “The movie asks a lot of questions about things that we deal with [as a society] and are asked to have opinions about—to have really strong opinions about, really fast, when we need time to talk and think,” Merlant says. ”I don’t think it answers these questions, but it asks them and people talk about them after.”

Photo: Sabine Villiard

Merlant, who recently directed her first feature, the romantic drama Mi Iubita, Mon Amour, is no stranger to projects that use its characters’ identities as a tool to begin conversations. As an actor, she’s best known for playing Marianne, a portrait painter who falls in love with her female subject, in Céline Sciamma’s acclaimed 2019 film Portrait of a Lady on Fire. She was also one of the stars of Jacques Audiard’s Paris, 13th District, about a digital-age-inflected queer love quadrangle, which came out earlier this year.

The actor, who began her career as a film extra before becoming something of an auteur muse, says that she looks for roles that represent women as they exist now—as people with desires, who both have power and are seeking power, and who struggle with more than fitting into a gender ideal.

“As an artist, in general, I have the feeling that cinema is supposed to talk to the world. And, for now, cinema only represents a small part of the world: the people who are in control,” Merlant says. “One of the most important things we have to work on in cinema is inclusion—and representation—because it’s how we can change the world, and inequality. Cinema is a really powerful weapon; you can change a lot of things with movies.”

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