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Dublin International Film Festival 2020 Review - THE AUDITION

the audition film review
A music teacher pushes a young violinist as she prepares him for a crucial audition.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ina Weisse

Starring: Nina Hoss, Simon Abkarian, Jens Albinus, Ilja Monti, Serafin Mishiev

the audition film poster


"Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." So go the words of George Bernard Shaw that have rankled with educators ever since. If cinema is anything to go by, no teachers are more frustrated than those in the musical sphere. Look at the tutors played by Isabelle Huppert and JK Simmons in Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher and Damien Chazelle's Whiplash and it's not difficult to surmise that their troubled mental states are driven by frustration over their inability to exploit their artistic talents. Of course, the reality is that most teachers are quite happy in the world of education (just as very few film critics are frustrated filmmakers, despite the beliefs of a subsection of below the line commenters), but that doesn't make for great drama, and so teachers, certainly music tutors, in films tend to be tormented in some way.

the audition film review


Such is the case with Anna (Nina Hoss), the protagonist of director Ina Weisse's chilly drama The Audition. A violin tutor at a Berlin conservatory, Anna is the sole voice of approval when young violinist Alexander (Ilja Monti) fluffs his admissions audition in the eyes of her fellow panel members. While the others write the boy off as having "poor technique", Anna seems to see some potential in Alexander, and so he is granted a place at the school.

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What follows might reductively be described as Michael Haneke's Whiplash, as Anna grows increasingly frustrated with Alexander's inability to fulfil the potential she saw in him. Her teaching methods cross lines of both child welfare and general decency, forcing Alexander to practice for hours on hours, as though developing musical talent is akin to weight training. Physical boundaries are breached as she lays her hands inappropriately on the young boy's person. Alexander is clearly in distress, and Anna's methods seem to be having no positive effect on his playing, but she presses the boy relentlessly regardless.

the audition film review


At home, Anna's marriage to a French instrument maker, Philippe (Simon Abkarian), is growing strained, though neither party is willing to raise the question of whether their relationship has run its course. Anna's affair with a colleague, Christian (Jens Albinus), is equally passionless. Her young son, Jonas (Serafin Mishiev), is himself a violinist, but he seems increasingly disinterested in his lessons and grows jealous of the attention his mother is devoting to Alexander. Visits to Anna's parents suggest that as a child she experienced the sort of discipline she now doles out to Alexander.

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All of these subplots are like separate fuses burning down to a singular powder keg we know will eventually explode, but when it does it's arguably more shocking than we might have imagined. The Audition is cynical and misanthropic in a way I can't recall seeing in too many recent films, and too often it feels like a movie cynically designed for us to revel in the misery of others. Hoss's Anna is clearly mentally and emotionally troubled, and the film simply observes her breakdown from a cold distance. Watching The Audition is like attending the gassing of a death row inmate - she's not the easiest of people to warm to, but does she really deserve this treatment?

the audition film review


That said, Hoss fully embodies her tortured tutor, and her uptight performance adds to the discomfort we develop watching her. If you've seen how The Piano Teacher ends, you'll likely have your guard up throughout The Audition, waiting for Anna to follow a similarly drastic course of action as Huppert's pained pianist. But that's the trouble with The Audition, it feels too indebted to other filmmakers - chiefly Haneke, von Trier, Akerman and Seidl - who have explored disturbed women with similar detachment to express any ideas of its own. Unlike Anna's pupil, Weisse has the technique down pat, but in failing to bring her own personality through, she's simply hitting the notes in the right order.

A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.




2020 film reviews