The Audition | Review
A History of Violins: Hoss at a Loss in Weisse’s Careful Character Study
Actor Ina Weisse returns to the director’s chair for the first time since 2008’s The Architect with a narrative equally entrenched in the career of its protagonist in The Audition. Riding high on a superb central performance from Nina Hoss (who gives an equally strong turn in the problematic Pelican Blood), Weisse returns to work with co-scribe Daphne Charizani to craft a stellar character study which plays like a carefully moderated musical arrangement, equal parts subtle drama and high anxiety. A portrait of obsessive alliances and psychological projections on the part of its heroine, whose championing of an introverted student awaken desires she’s been unwisely keeping at bay, Weisse spins her film into darker than expected territories favoring a character study which moves to primal depths in its significant silences.
Anna Bronsky (Hoss) is a stern, arguably contrarian violin teacher at a high school conservatory in Berlin. During the annual entrance exam, she champions the admission of Alexander (Ilja Monti), a boy she believes harbors a distinctive talent despite his deficits in form. Anna believes through significant struggle one can tap into untested reservoirs, and by throwing herself into the training of Alexander for his six month audition, the success of which will dictate his continuation at the school, she taps into her own hidden desires of pursuing recognition as a violinist, joining a quartet which includes a man with whom she shares a mutual attraction. These personal and professional distractions don’t go unnoticed by her husband Philippe (Simon Akbarian), a violin maker, and their ten-year-old son Jonas (Serafin Mishiev), who has heretofore eschewed his mother’s desire for him to pursue an interest in playing the violin. Her obsession with the success of Alexander throws their stagnant rhythm off course, however, with devastating consequences.
As in her 2008 drama The Architect, professional aspirations and familial parameters become inextricably intertwined to alter her protagonist’s affairs, and The Audition’s success rides on the shoulders of a thorny performance from Nina Hoss. Much like The Piano Teacher (2001) in how it examines the dwindling elitism of a musical community wherein its torchbearers are mercilessly overlooked in the vainglorious attempt to enrich a newer, apathetic generation of talent, this is an intersection of desperation, tenacity and pretension on the part of Anna, who harbors 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 grow dormant. If Haneke’s classic is a point of comparison, Weisse stumbles into more obscure territories with Anna, a woman who is her own worst enemy, wherein dueling personal desires interrupt her professional potential akin to Ernst Weiss’ 1914 novel Franziska about an ambitious Czech pianist whose doomed romance with selfish lover compromises her career.
Anna’s championing of Alexander and her subsequent competing awakened passions for a colleague creates a dangerous ripple effect in her stale marriage (Simon Abkarian in a quiet supporting role), and while it forces Anna to lean into madness, events take on startlingly troubling proportion. Weisse hones in on a scenario of selfishness and depraved dysfunction, delving into the baseness of this privileged arena. Forcing failed fantasies onto her progeny, the troubling final moments of The Audition, aided by the partially obscured gaze of an inscrutable Hoss, ends on a drastic, disconcerting note of discord. And like the film’s pleasurable silences, which often find Hoss wandering the streets of Berlin, The Audition reveals itself as a dark symphony of musical beats, delivering us into a disturbing fermata the intentions of which reverberate beyond the credits.
Reviewed on September 8th at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival – Discovery Program. 99 Mins.