The Audition – Film Review

Settling itself at the intersection of a work and family drama, The Audition (Das Vorspiel) follows Anna, played by Nina Hoss, a middle-aged woman seeking some kind of redemption for herself as she grapples with her deteriorating work and family life. Co-written by director Ina Weisse and Daphne Charizani, Weisse’s full-length feature debut The Audition is unfortunately not as scintillating or attention-grabbing as it aims to be.

As tightly wound as the strings on her instrument, Anna (Hoss) is always quivering with tension. A violin teacher at a music-focused high school in Germany, Anna takes on the quiet and soft Alexander (Ilja Monti) as her newest student. She can see something in him, something her fellow teachers don’t, and she’s made it her mission to bring him up to standard one way or another. Meanwhile, at home, Anna contends with a contentious teenage son, Jonas (Serafin Mishiev), who would rather play ice hockey than practice violin, and a husband, Philippe (Simon Abkarian), who seems to have been drifting away from her for some time. To cope with her fracturing family, Anna throws herself into tutoring Alexander and sleeping with her co-worker, a cellist named Christian.

The Audition is blessed with some excellent actors. Hoss is mildly intimidating in her role, and any viewer who spent any portion of their childhood learning a musical instrument will feel immediate secondhand stress and discomfort watching her try to mentor Alexander. Alexander represents an opportunity to finally perfect and improve on something, and Anna puts him under so much increasing pressure that the student-teacher pair becomes untenable. Anna slowly seems to come undone as the tutoring goes on; Alexander seemingly fails to master his audition piece and Anna completely loses control over her personal life, but she never fully unravels or breaks down, clinging on to her training as a classical musician, training that demands composure and excellence, for dear life. It’s somewhat frustrating to see her grit her teeth and bear it all. A cathartic release from her would have made her character a little more sympathetic, perhaps.

The other standout performance comes from young Mishiev as Anna’s son, Jonas. Trying to navigate his own interests and his talent as a violinist, Jonas is put under immense pressure from his mother and maternal grandfather to live up to his potential as a musician. Anna clearly wants him to exceed her as a violinist, pushing him to practice more, practice better, and correcting mistakes in his performance much to the annoyance of his actual teacher. Jonas seems to be indifferent toward his mother at first, but as she begins to tutor Alexander, his indifference shifts to pure resentment. Despite his mouthy attitude and abhorrent behaviour, Jonas is still somehow one of the only sympathetic characters in the film.

These performances, however, are still not enough to detract from the film’s flaws.

Perhaps it was intentional by the writers, but The Audition often lacks some critical exposition. There are many moments throughout the film’s 99 minutes that feel like they should be supported by a backstory that just isn’t there; the strange tension between Anna and her father is extremely palpable and yet never explained, the condescension between Anna and her husband that seems to stem from his job as a violin maker, but we’re given no reason for this, only vague allusions to ‘choices made’. Anna also seems hesitant to play her violin when given the opportunity to perform in a quintet, with throwaway hints made to a failed career as a performance violinist and a possible issue with muscular tremors.

There are many portions to The Audition that feel empty and underwritten, and sadly Weisse and Charizani do very little to try and fill in the blanks. Audiences are by no means stupid, but they’re also not so clever that a film maker or screenwriter can dangle vague plot points in front of them and expect them to piece them together. Ultimately, these open-ended plot elements do nothing for the film as a whole and makes watching it a tedious and frustrating experience.

The Audition (Das Vorspiel) will premiere as part of the German Film Festival from 27th May – 13 June.
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