Playing for Time - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Playing for Time Reviews

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March 12, 2016
Very atmospheric, with Redgrave at her best!
jjnxn
Super Reviewer
July 29, 2013
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.
July 21, 2013
I saw this movie for the first time when I was 9 years old. My mother explained to me the hard truth that this wasn't a scary fiction movie but a true story. I re-watched this the other night and it still has the same emotional punch in the gut 30 years later.
½ June 22, 2013
"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.
July 8, 2012
TV MOVIE. True story of Fania Fenelon, a singer who is forced to sing in the Nazi concentration camps. Brilliant screenplay by Arthur Miller and top notch acting and directing. Redgrave is brilliant, but Jane Alexander is mesmerizing as the uncompromising orchestra leader. Winner of multiple Emmy's. CBS 9/30/1980
February 1, 2011
I have watched dozens of Holocaust-themed dramas over the years and am quite surprised that I've missed this superior quality production starring Vanessa Redgrave. Set during the Holocaust, Redgrave portrays sophisticated French cabaret singer Fania Fenelon who finds herself on a train to notorious Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her talent for singing and playing the piano attracts the attention of the Nazis and she gets selected to play with the female Jewish orchestra at the camp, headed by Alma Rose (played superbly by Jane Alexander). The story focuses not so much on the horrors at the camp, but on the emotional and psychological toll on the inmates at the camp. Fania tries to maintain her dignity as a human being, despite witnessing the depravity around her. A young woman who latches onto Fania goes through a horrible transformation - from a sweet young woman to a needy leech to a wanton woman who would do anything (sleep with Jews, Poles, and Nazis) in order to stay alive. Fania is horrified by this transformation, but tries her best to advise her young friend, to no avail.

Then there's Alma, the strict conductor who demands excellence from her starving musicians. Fania and Alma frequently clash over their approach to the Nazis - Fania feels they should not work so hard to please the Nazis, but Alma feels that pleasing the Nazis is essential in order to stay alive. I like how this drama explores not just the difficulties experienced by the female Jewish inmates, but also other themes. The animosity between the Poles and Jews is well-explored, and we come to understand that some of this animosity is due more to a lack of understanding of the other's culture. The Nazis, even the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele (played by Max Wright, though rather unconvincingly I felt - somehow his portrayal failed in conveying the cold and calculated demeanor associated with Mengele), the doctor of death is portrayed as having some human feelings - when one of the women dies tragically, Mengele expresses his grief through a funeral unheard of for a Jew during those dark times. Not only does the deceased Jew get a coffin, but also Nazi honors (not that this makes any sense, but it is to show the respect and grief Mengele felt for a Jew). Even the notorious female warden Maria Mandel (Shirley Knight) is shown as harboring some compassion. Nothing is black and white here and the movie strikes a chord with the viewer because of this credible and balanced portrayal. The horror of the camp is not shown through the brutalization and extermination of the innocent, but through the emotional and psychological transformation that each character experiences. This is definitely a classic in the genre of Holocaust movies and is a must-watch for anyone interested in the period. The story is based on Fania Fenelon's true life experiences during the Holocaust which is available as a memoir:
Playing for Time
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