The Audition is a tense personal drama about a violin teacher’s unravelling when a prodigy enters her life. Pushed to the brink of sanity, she devotes every moment to perfect the young boy’s skill, even at the own risk of further estranging her from her own son. If one desires to make a drama about a woman’s mental decline, Nina Hoss is the right woman for the job.
Firstly, any and all comparisons to Whiplash should be jettisoned from one’s mind when watching The Audition. Two or more films with similar characters can exist without any of them being entirely related. The Audition is it’s own thing, that delves into the neuroses of Nina Hoss’ Anna, a fairly competent music teacher with a mountain of problems: most of her own making.
From the beginning, Anna showcases several key traits which independent from each other none would think anything of them, however, combined craft a cocktail of disaster. She is overly doubtful with her choices, indecisive about where to sit at a restaurant or when ordering dinner, or turns small discussions about ones preference for tea into a whole thing. A talented musician in her own right she is incapable of escaping a crippling anxiety that prevents her from playing in public anymore. She is the kind of person who is in her own head, often over-analysing one thing at a time without considering the whole situation. She is also cheating on her level-headed and overly appeasing husband, so let’s just say all is not alright with Anna. Meek in appearance but the semblance of saboteur lurk behind Hoss’ wide and doleful eyes. It is in her shy student does she find a place to assert dominance and confidence.
Equally anxious as her student about being judged she averts her attention away from her own goals onto her young student to excel, essentially using him to vicariously live through his achievements. Perfecting his skill and talent makes up for whatever Anna perceives she lacks or doubts she has. Her own son, Jonas, not necessarily as musically ambitious as his mother, is further alienated from his mother. Due to Anna’s obsessive need to perfect Alexander’s skills Jonas grows to resent her further and the young man who has taken up his mothers attentions. The Audition isn’t so much about Anna and her relationship with Alexander, but her own inner turmoil and how she engages with her son who is not equipped to handle his mothers less than affectionate approach to his musical growth.
The strain in the mother-son relationship alongside everything else in Anna’s life is beautifully orchestrated by director and screenwriter Ina Weisse, who at every turn maximises the stress of Anna’s situation. Hoss wields her acting chops with as much efficiency and grace as Anna plays her violin (when she is at her best). There is an ease in which Hoss embodies Anna and her many deficiencies as she makes one bad decision after another, never truly considering the consequences of the situation as a whole. Balanced with Anna’s understandable fears and anxieties, the characterisation never tries to blame or villainise her. Weisse and Hoss craft a character that is worthy of our sympathy as well as our scolding. There is never a true indictment of Anna or her choices rather a sorrowful reminder of how little control one may have when overwhelmed with doubt and anxiety.
Weisse’s portrait of a lady teetering on the edge is stressful. Unrelentingly bleak but remarkably restraint, a skill Anna probably wishes she had. There is a key moment where Anna’s husband accuses her of exhibiting a lack of restraint and it is undoubtedly the thesis of the film. How does one practice restraint? Anna is so consumed by the fear of failure that it propels her into creating situations where she is bound to fail, a little restraint may be what she needs. It’s what we all need to prevent us from stoking the flames of our darkest tendencies.
The Audition is out on VOD now
by Ferdosa Abdi
Ferdosa (she/her) is a lifetime student of cinema. Three of her current favourite films are Addams Family Values, Cinderella (2015), and Emma. (2020). On Twitter, you can see her support for women-led cinema, her ongoing love/hate relationship with Disney, her totally healthy obsession with Eva Green, and her great admiration for Guillermo del Toro.