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Audition, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Not just another troubling teacher/student story."
4 stars

The makers of "The Audition" don't exactly hide what's really going on at any point, but it is nevertheless fascinating because it is not, by and large, the teacher/student story that it initially appears to be. That is there but it's just one facet of what's going on, and the one which often seems least important, giving the filmmakers a lot of room to explore the other things which tend to be going on around this type of story

The teacher is Anna Bronsky (Nina Hoss), who sees potential in a student who has applied to the conservatory where she's an instructor despite the others on the selection committee looking for someone more immediately polished. Perhaps she sees something in Alexander (Ilja Monti) and his awkwardness that reminds her of her own social anxiety; she has not played publicly or even rehearsed with others in years, despite her colleague and one-time lover Christian (Jens Albinus) trying to recruit her into a quintet. Husband Philippe (Simon Abkarian) is the one who sees her at her most uncertain, and probably the only one who clearly sees how Anna's efforts to get pre-teen son Jonas (Serafin Mishiev) to follow in her footsteps as a violinist despite his being much more interested in hockey and the like is putting a strain on their relationship.

From early on, it's clear that Anna, rather than Alexander, will be the focus of the film, and filmmaker Ina Weisse gives star Nina Hoss the sort of character who must be great fun for an actor to dig into. There are some big, chewy bits that seem built to announce that Hoss is playing someone who has some anxiety issues, but they come early and can be read as her on an unusually tricky day, instead giving the viewer the chance to see how those bits are hidden under all the moments when she is decisive and indeed sometimes brilliant. Hoss plays Anna as someone who has been aware of her issues and dealing with them for some time, and the combination of things sometimes getting away from her despite her clear agency makes Anna fascinating to watch, with both her missteps and her better moments easily relatable, even as the film invests in how particular her situation can be.

It's how Weisse and co-writer focus on those details that often makes The Audition demand one's attention more than other films might. The very first scene has a group of musicians critiquing Alexander's performance in specific ways, and while mastery of a musical instrument can often be a part of what moves things forward in a movie like this, Weisse and company put a lot of effort into making sure that the audience can tell what the difference between good and very good is, or will wince at Alexander making an error quickly enough that Anna's subsequent shift in attitude does not seem random. One feels how difficult sustained playing is even if the viewer has never played an instrument with any sort of skill whatsoever, or reads how the other members of the quintet seem to have music flowing through them while Anna pushes it out. It's specialized material that she makes accessible in impressive fashion, without appearing to also give the audience remedial lessons.

Weisse does a lot of other things that work as compact but telling storytelling as well - the way Anna always has her violin with her at all times even when she's not actually playing shows how central it is to her identity, and as the film goes on, more of Philippe's scenes take place in his workshop, a retreat one can feel even if it's not completely signaled. There's some very nice work done with the young actors, as well - Ilja Monti hits a very specific spot in terms of just how dedicated Alexander is and how his confidence and fear evolve over the course of the film, while Serafin Mishiev makes Jonas a kid who seems to be genuinely cracking under his mother's expectations and dedication to her new student.

There are times when Weisse et al go a bit further than is really good for the movie, opening a couple cans of worms in the homestretch that there isn't enough time to deal with, along with a moment or two odd enough to make one wonder where that particular detail came from. This doesn't leave the movie feeling unfinished or unbelievable, instead underscoring that these people are both complicated and, sometimes, dangerously straightforward. It's more than the familiar material it starts with, and interesting for that.

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originally posted: 06/30/20 13:08:59
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Directed by
  Ina Weisse

Written by
  Daphne Charizani
  Ina Weisse

  Nina Hoss
  Simon Abkarian
  Jens Albinus
  Ilja Monti
  Serafin Mishiev

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