Now streaming on:
There’s a quiet intensity that runs throughout “The Audition.” Although most of it feels like a subtle family and teacher drama, sharp anxious pangs occasionally disrupt the film’s otherwise gentle pace. Eventually, these feelings spin the film’s main character out-of-control into a truly baffling conclusion that feels neither right nor earned. It’s almost as if it were the ending of another movie entirely.
Ina Weisse’s “The Audition” revolves around the complicated world of Anna (Nina Hoss), a stressed violin teacher whose performing career seems to have been cut short by nerves. She’s now moved on to teaching at an elite school where the teachers can be just as competitive as the students. In one of the many hopefuls in the line of children hoping to be admitted, Anna sees talent in a soft-spoken and reserved boy named Alexander (Ilja Monti). Unfortunately, she transfers the pressure she once put on herself to perform on her new student and her younger son, Jonas (Serafin Mishiev), who begins to resent Alexander for how much attention he takes from Anna. The added chaos disrupts Anna’s marriage with her husband Philippe (Simon Abkarian) and rekindles some old feelings with a fellow teacher, Christian (Jens Albinus), until the movie hits its bleak final note.
“The Audition” is Weisse’s second writing collaboration with Daphne Charizani, who also worked on Weisse’s feature debut, “The Architect.” In “The Audition,” details and motives are scant, and it’s up to the viewer to piece together much of the story, including Anna’s supposed past with Christian, her troubled marriage with Philippe and her even more obscure relationship with her terse father. This is especially jarring when he pushes Jonas’ hand into an ant pile and pins him there until he squirms away. Was that a bizarre act to keep his grandson from following in his mother’s footsteps? Was it jealousy or wanton cruelty? With only a brief scolding, Anna moves on from her father’s abuse chillingly easy, and it’s impossible to figure out why.
However, between the writing of Anna and Hoss’ intense performance, some semblance of a character comes to make sense. Although the audience is thrown into the deep end of her world, certain facts and connections slowly fall into place, allowing us to see the decline of this once proud violinist. Her resentment and anger feels layered and nuanced, manifesting in small outbursts and crying spells. There’s no volcanic meltdown, no complete moment where she gets to fall apart. Her training, her severely reserved personality won’t allow her the catharsis she so badly needs.
In addition to Anna’s problems, “The Audition” includes the other struggles of supporting characters. Anna wants her son Jonas to follow in his parents’ musical footsteps, but the young boy seems more excited to play ice hockey with friends than practice the violin by himself for hours while his mom corrects every minute mistake. Anna’s perfectionism makes her a painfully exacting teacher, and the movie shows her snapping over and over again, demanding perfection from both Jonas and Alexander. Perhaps there’s a bit of Anna in her shy student, and perhaps she sees the chance to redeem herself vicariously through his chance at passing the school’s demanding audition. Her husband, who left the cutthroat performance world, shifted into working, repairing and making the delicate stringed instruments. Although work better suits him, Anna resents him for quitting their profession and he bristles when she condescends to him on the topic.
Cast under the darkened pall of Judith Kaufmann’s cinematography, “The Audition” takes on a somber and ominous tone. Yet even with all of this simmering anger on screen, there’s nothing that quite prepares you for the horrid twist the story takes, and the ruthless notes it leaves hanging in the air as the credits roll inappropriately soon. It’s a jarring ending I can’t quite fit together with the events that came before it without making it bitterly heartless. Perhaps that’s what the filmmakers were going for, but with so many details left off the page and screen, we can only puzzle as to just what this movie’s dark ending really means.
Now available through virtual cinemas.