Playing for Time (1980) - Rotten Tomatoes

Playing for Time (1980)

Playing for Time





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Movie Info

The made-for-television Playing for Time debuted on September 30, 1980. Vanessa Redgrave stars as Fania Fenelon, a Jewish cabaret singer working in Paris at the time of the Nazi invasion. Shipped to the Auschwitz death camp in 1944, Fenelon is certain that she is as doomed as all the other prisoners. But SS camp matron Shirley Knight has other plans: she orders Fenelon and several other female inmates with musical ability to form themselves into a prisoner's orchestra. They are to perform for the benefit of those who are herded into the gas chambers--a "humane" means of easing the condemned into the next world. As much as she despises her work, Fenelon and her fellow musicians continue to play, lest they too be exterminated. The film raises several questions about courage, guilt and survival at any price, but the most controversial aspect was the casting of anti-Zionist Vanessa Redgrave as Fania Fenelon. Like many others, the real-life Fenelon (who died in 1988) was vehemently opposed to Redgrave's appearance in the film. Playing for Time won Emmy Awards for Redgrave, scriptwriter Arthur Miller, supporting actress Jane Alexander, and as Outstanding Dramatic Special. Redgrave's husband Tony Richardson was the original director, but he bowed out and was replaced by Joseph Sargent., who himself was replaced by Daniel Mann (the only one credited)more
Rating: Unrated
Genre: Drama
Directed By: ,
Written By: Arthur Miller
On DVD: Sep 6, 2010
Syzygy Productions


Vanessa Redgrave
as Fania Fenelon
Jane Alexander
as Alma Rose
Shirley Knight
as Maria Mandel
Verna Bloom
as Paulette
Elaine Bromka
as Tchiakowska
Clarence Felder
as Commandant Kramer
Viveca Lindfors
as Frau Schmidt
Max Wright
as Dr. Mengele
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Playing for Time

Critic Reviews for Playing for Time

All Critics (1)

... one of the most powerful TV events of its era.

Full Review… | September 11, 2010
Parallax View

Audience Reviews for Playing for Time

Intense, visceral performances by all but of course the story is so awful that it is a film that can only be appreciated not enjoyed.

jay nixon

Super Reviewer


"Playing for Time" is a tough watch but a necessary one. This true story of Holocaust survival is unlike any other Auschwitz story out there. It is hard to believe that this is a made-for-tv movie because the script and acting are so incredible. There are a few moments that are below cinema quality (usually the presentation of stock footage that could have been edited more consistently with the rest of the film), but "Playing for Time" is definitely worthy of the silver screen. Vanessa Redgrave gives an awe-inspiring performance as the singer/pianist Fania Fenelon, a half-Jewish supporter of the French Resistance who escaped death at the Concentration Camp. The historical accuracy of the book and film are accredited to Fenalon, who lived to tell her tale and helped to write the screenplay. Upon being recognized as a musician, she was placed in the Women's Orchestra of Auschwitz (conducted by Alma Rose, the niece of Gustav Mahler). These women would perform for the Nazi officers at Auschwitz (including Josef Mengele) and approached each performance with the realization that if they were no longer seen as valuable, they could face the gas chamber. Although Fenelon opposed the casting of Redgrave due to her height and personality, Redgrave's interpretation of the character captures the thematic trauma of this story. Barely unable to speak when she has to prove herself worthy to play in the orchestra, she locks in to a sense of desperation that most of us cannot imagine. The disdain of many of the non-orchestra members creates an interesting perspective, viewing these women as working for the Nazis when they are merely doing what is necessary to survive. Nothing about this film is easy to watch, from the shaving of the women's heads to the smoke from the chimneys as bodies are burned. The Holocaust is one of the darkest chapters in the history of the human race but this film is a tribute in memory of those who unjustly lost their lives and others who were placed in a survival situation and found a way to persevere.

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