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The Audition review - love and hate at music school | reviews, news & interviews

The Audition review - love and hate at music school

The Audition review - love and hate at music school

Nina Hoss gives humane warmth to a tortured violin teacher

Those who can't, teach: Anna (Nina Hoss) suffers at the conservatoire

If Roman Polanski had directed Whiplash, something like this study of music’s psychological cost might have resulted. Ina Weisse’s film is more incremental and naturalistic, as violin teacher Anna (Nina Hoss) gives special attention to teenage protégé Alexander (Ilja Monti), to the jealous resentment of son Jonas (Serafin Mishiev), while nervously returning to the stage herself.

Weisse starts with tableaus of music work at Anna’s Berlin conservatoire. When camera and characters get close-up, the trouble – and, sometimes, loving connection – starts. Because music is in Anna’s family’s bones, the skeleton of their day. Her French luthier husband Philippe (Simon Abkarian) strums and murmurs a Communard anthem on her birthday, in prelude to a kiss, and bonds with Jonas over instruments’ skin-like textures. When Anna plays a Menuhin album she loves to Alexander, it’s an intimate act. Even her affair with a colleague leads to joining his string quintet. “The violin is only a tiny bit of life,” Philippe pleads. “I’m not fooling myself,” she snarls back, as if mere instrument-making is a loser’s game. To Anna music is a war she can’t win, a tortured servitude, her source of mastery and abnegation.Anna (Nina Hoss) and Alexander (Ilja Monti) in The AuditionMichael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2001) and Denis Dercout’s The Page Turner (2006) similarly centred on pianistic cruelty. One might also think of James Mason’s cane whacking near Ann Todd’s fingers on the piano in The Seventh Veil (1946), an early example of virtuosity’s sadomasochistic undercurrents. Weisse and co-writer Daphne Charizani have both played in string sections, experiencing their “often excruciating” practice regimes. The Audition doesn’t exalt this into the mad militaristic melodrama of Whiplash, or see music as explosive genius. Instead, Weisse soberly observes its quotidian making: the office politics of bitchy colleagues, and bus rides to work as the seasons change, building Anna’s Berlin world.Anna (Nina Hoss) in The AuditionHoss was acting muse to Christian Petzold, carving intense feeling into German social parables such as Barbara (2012) and Phoenix (2014). Her humane performance here gives a warm blush to what could be a chilly portrait. Anna is often kind and loving to her son, shielding him from her disciplinarian dad. Her flaws crawl just under the surface, feeding bottomless doubts in her ability to match lofty musical ideals. She means well, and is self-aware enough to mostly quell her tremulous inner nature. But when she’s lured into testing her own adequacy in concert, the excruciating result is bad news for Alexander. He’s already appeared at her home, a cuckoo in the nest and rival to Jonas. Now Anna’s methods go from rigorous to monomaniacally inappropriate, his face flushing as she grabs his recalcitrant body. His audition becomes a crucible for all her hopes.

Excepting Anna’s dad with his Prussian manners, Weisse’s characters aren’t bad, yet prove capable of doing very bad things, as becomes all too clear with the final, monstrously jolting act of this sympathetic and sinister character study.

Music is in Anna’s family’s bones, the skeleton of their day


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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