A Character Study
Ina Weisse’s “The Audition” stars Nina Hoss as a middle-aged music teacher whose fragile sense of self becomes entwined with a new student. Alexander (Ilja Monti), the student is a young high school violinist, and her projections onto him, are more about her own perceived failures While we are taken to dark places, Weisse’s story of the tortured psyche of a professional female musician is humanistic.
The film aptly opens with an audition in which we see the impassive administrators of a Berlin youth conservatory, including Anna (Hoss), evaluating young teens taking turns playing orchestral instruments on stage. Although each of them has prepared multiple pieces to play, the judges consistently cut them off moments through their first piece—an unforgiving intimidation tactic that shows the film’s portrait of music education as oppressive.
Anna’s cold exterior is momentarily broken by Alexander’s audition. He performs a difficult piece by Édouard Lalo that moves her but does not impress her colleagues. We learn that Alexander’s visible nervousness is part of what draws her to him— Anna suffers from a nervous condition that led her to retire from an orchestra and become an instructor, and caused an inability to make decisions.
Anna takes Alexander on as her student and prepares him for their school’s intermediate exam and is focused on the series of rehearsals before Alexander’s big performance for the conservator. We watch Anna and Alexander’s gradual devolution into punishing routines. Anna begins directing her own self-punishing thoughts onto the vulnerable young boy.
We go into Anna’s life through compact scenes, subtly showing the anxiety of Anna’s world. We have glimpses of Philippe who runs a shop below her apartment, handling her with kids’ gloves, and of her son Jonas’s (Serafin Mishiev) neutral responses to her presence that show the atmosphere of alienation as a result of Anna’s unraveling sense of discipline. Anna knows that her insecurities themselves actually lie at the root of the problems in her life. Hoss captures this, without words, in her performance as a woman who puts on an increasingly fractured stone face for the world outside.
Anna was raised in a culture of self-discipline causing the cultural and possible genetic roots of her issues. The film is about the relation between those inward and outward senses of discipline is seen in her behavior. The film moves toward a tragic conclusion. Nevertheless, The Audition captures with clarity an irony at the base of accomplished musical expression: the conflict between interiority and imposed technique, which can be fraught with repressed frustration and resentment.
Anna plays like a carefully moderated musical arrangement, equal parts subtle drama and high anxiety, giving a portrait of obsessive alliances and psychological projections whose championing of an introverted student awakens desires she’s been unwisely holding back. Weisse gives us a character study which moves to primal depths in its significant silences.
Professional aspirations and familial parameters become mixed together to alter Anna’s affairs, and the success of the film comes from Hoss’s performance in how it examines the dwindling elitism of a musical community where the leaders are overlooked in the vainglorious in favor of a newer, apathetic generation of talent. We see the intersection of desperation, tenacity and pretension on the part of Anna, who dreams of fulfilling her potential as a noted violinist. Her championing of an underdog leads her to the precipice of personal ruin as it awakens her need to pursue interests she’d allowed to be put to rest.
“The Audition” ends with a harsh, tragic coda that may surprise some. Others will not be confounded, given the grimness that has taken place up to this point.