By Ali Moosavi.
It is encouraging to see that films like The Audition / Das Vorspiel, with strong leading female characters are becoming more common. The Audition is directed and co-written by Ina Weisse, herself a veteran actress of more than fifty films. For the film’s leading role though she has engaged the services of Nina Hoss, one of the best actresses in world cinema today, perhaps best known for her work with Christian Petzold (Barbara, Phoenix).
During an audition for a place at a prestigious music school, a talented young violinist is spotted by Anna (Nina Hoss), one of the teachers, who takes it upon herself to train the boy. Though Anna makes an immediate, impulsive decision to take on the young violinist as a student, she is inordinately indecisive in all other matters in her life. Although she seems to be happily married with a loving spouse and a young son, she takes on a lover. He indecision is highlighted in a scene when she and her husband go for a meal to a restaurant. She cannot decide where they should sit, changing tables a few times and what she wants to eat; ending up swapping her dish with her husband’s.
Weisse and her co-script writer Daphne Charizani delve deep into the fragility and unpredictability of a woman for whom the multiple tasks of being a musician, a teacher, a wife and a mother prove too overbearing. For Anna, music is her life. Her husband has a business repairing musical instruments and her lover is a musician. She is creative in her teaching methods, using weights and belts to assist students with playing the violin. The one who is damaged most by Anna’s erratic behaviour is her young son, who is about the same age as Anna’s new student. He feels neglected by his mother, specially since he is also a talented violinist. Nina Hoss perfectly captures the complexity of Anna’s character and very deservedly received the Best Actress award at the 2019 San Sebastian International Film Festival. I sat down with Inna Weisse and Nina Hoss in San Sebastian to talk about The Audition. I started by mentioning that coincidentally my daughter is a cellist & just had an audition to which Nina Hoss replied: “I am so in awe of that world. It’s really hard and you just have to go for it. You feel every fault.”
Do you play any musical instruments yourselves?
NH: I play the piano where you have the keyboard and I can see the notes in front of you. But with the violin you have to be very intuitive. You kind of know where the notes are, and you just have to risk it, hoping it will look authentic. It’s so sensual. That is what Anna does every day. Of course, you can’t let go. You go through all this training to become a teacher. I wouldn’t say that everyone who becomes a teacher didn’t succeed as a performer, but maybe at a certain point you find that you are better at giving and teaching the art than performing.
IW: I also have a background in music. I play the violin and I was in an orchestra too, so I know that world.
At audition in beginning of the film, when the boy plays the violin, Anna immediately voices her approval, while the others are not sure. But throughout the movie, she is indecisive. Like where to sit in the restaurant, even with the men, can you talk about this contradiction in decisiveness?
NH: I think as a woman, you have many sides to yourself. It’s not this or that, it comes together. It’s human being.
IW: You have so many personalities within you. And I find that for me also it starts like that. You see that she is someone who looks for a special tone and not the technique. She says I hear something in a man. There is something special that is so beautiful, it opens the room up to something. You say, oh that’s a great teacher. That’s what you look for. Then, when she doesn’t succeed herself as a musician, she falls back on the old world like all the others and goes work, work, work. It’s what you know. Always in moments of insecurity, you fall back into the old patterns; where at least you kind of know what is going to happen. So, you go back to this room and are stuck with this opinion that you just have to work hard. It’s not about feeling “forget it”, because she punishes herself. It’s all against herself.
NH: And I find it beautiful that she starts off as someone who is looking for something else, in pursuit of perfection.
When you wrote the script did you know about the weight and belt that Anna uses in the film to assist in music practice and teaching?
IW: I read some books but then I got to know that in India there is a teacher that uses kind of sacks and also a student told us that there is a teacher who does that.
Was there any particular reason that Anna’s husband is French in the film?
IW: I wanted somebody strange from her. Because she chose another life. She wants to go out to another country. And so, in this case she chose a French man. She was looking for another life.
NH: Before that she went to France, she had this musician life and she met him there. The school she teaches is international with teachers from many countries. It’s an international world. Her lover is also not German and is Danish.
Did you discuss the Anna character before the film to agree what sort of traits she has?
NH: It’s always like reading between the lines. We discuss a lot. But we have discussions about the world, about every detail. Not just about the character. The character evolves. Sometimes about the character, sometimes about the colours she chooses.
How do you think she feels at the end of the film where her son is practicing again, knowing what he did? (not revealed here as it would be a spoiler) What do you think her feelings are?
NH: I love to leave it open. I know what I acted and what I thought, but also myself, every time I see it, I see something else. It’s slightly unnerving. I think people want to read between the lines.
IW: Everybody has to find their own answer. Because if you give one answer now, ninety-nine answers are out. There is not one answer. Your answer is probably more interesting than the other answers. But, something happened! You read some books and then you walk around with these characters in your head. I don’t know the end of the book. I know something about the character. It’s great that you live with that character ten minutes after the end of the film. Without any explaining or preaching. We don’t preach. You just have an experience with this character.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of the The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015).