Inside view of musical discord

Director Ina Weisse talks about a protegé under pressure in The Audition

by Richard Mowe

Nina Hoss as Anna, Director Ina Weisse: 'For her it is all about the boy, but in the end, it is about her too'
Nina Hoss as Anna, Director Ina Weisse: 'For her it is all about the boy, but in the end, it is about her too' Photo: Unifrance
There’s not such a huge difference between conducting an orchestra and directing a film. Second-time director of The Audition (Der Vorspiel) Ina Weisse should know: she played violin in a Berlin orchestra while her co-writer Daphne Charizani was a cellist.

“We played in different orchestras but we know that the world incredibly well,” said Weisse whose new film deals with a violin teacher Anna (Nina Hoss) and her protegé Alexander (Ilja Monti). Despite opposition, she brings him in to the music school where she works and starts preparing him for his exam. Meanwhile, her son Jonas (Serafin Mishiev) finds he is competition with the new recruit while her husband Philippe (Simon Abkarian) feels neglected as his wife’s single-minded determination goes in to overdrive.

Despite her musical roots, Weisse researched the subject meticulously and spent time with young star Monti. She said: “I spent three years getting to know him and his teacher who was very nice man, unlike the character of Anna in the film. It was good to see Ilja start to grow up and develop, and he came to trust me which was perfect preparation for the part.”

Director Ina Weisse: 'You have to be in control, but also possess the flexibility to be in the moment for the performance itself'
Director Ina Weisse: 'You have to be in control, but also possess the flexibility to be in the moment for the performance itself' Photo: Unifrance
Weisse who studied drama and acted in various theatrical and cinema productions and attended Hamburg Film Faculty, suggests the real subject of the film is education. “It’s about why children should be set free from the influence of the parents. In the beginning, I think Anna is a decent person who tries to do good work with her student. But then she becomes obsessed and wants him to be too good. She places all her expectations on this poor boy … and meanwhile her son is jealous and vengeful because he is being humiliated. These all are wounded people and she is revealed as a control freak who also is unsure of herself.

“This is something that is peculiar to the music world where you have to be in control, but also possess the flexibility to be in the moment for the performance itself. You have to know where you want to go, but you have to be free in your mind to be able to play. In a way, it is similar to being a director where you also have to prepare meticulously but also be in the moment.”

Weisse switched to cinema when she realised she did not have the commitment to be a serious professional musician. “My parents weren’t musicians which meant there was no pressure on me. But without the pressure it doesn’t work. The boy in the film practices three hours every day and is very self-motivated. If there is one wrong note then everyone notices whereas in acting or directing you can work round it,” said Weisse, who now plays piano and accordion for her own amusement.

Musical rivals Ilja Monti, left, and Serafin Mischiev as Alexander and Jonas in The Audition
Musical rivals Ilja Monti, left, and Serafin Mischiev as Alexander and Jonas in The Audition Photo: Unifrance
The film was made in France rather than Germany because of her collaboration with producer Margaret Ménégoz with whom she hopes to work again. The cast is international with German actress Hoss, French actor Abkarian and Denmark’s Jens Albinus as Anna's lover. “There was no formal casting process - I met them each individually and sensed it would be great to work with them together,” said Weisse.

Working with Hoss, who won a best actress award for the role at the San Sebastian Film Festival she tried to capture one woman's inner turmoil and insecurity “When you call everything into question, when you set high standards for yourself while riddled with the fear of failure you become vulnerable because you know that no one can free you of doubt. Anna's conviction that music always comes first emerges as a constant struggle - nothing can ever be good enough and this puts her under great pressure. She demands even greater excellence of her student. For her it is all about the boy, but in the end, it is about her too.”

The Audition will be released later in the year by New Wave.

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