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Playing for Time

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Playing for Time is a gripping 1980 movie that presents a chilling and audacious viewpoint of the Holocaust, which was adapted from an autobiographical book authored by Fania Fénelon. It features a remarkable ensemble cast led by Academy Award-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave, together with commendable performances by Jane Alexander and former Bond girl Maud Adams.

The movie immerses the viewers into the disturbing and horrifying world of Auschwitz, the infamous concentration camp during World War II. Nonetheless, it refrains from outwardly showcasing the violent cruelty, focusing more on the grinding everyday life of the inmates, their relationships, and how they cling to the fleeting fragments of humanity left within the camp's confinements.

The narrative primarily revolves around Fania Fénelon (played exquisitely by Vanessa Redgrave), a French cabaret singer and a woman of Jewish heritage. Being thrown into the nightmarish virulent vortex of Auschwitz, Fénelon finds herself caught in the bitter ironies of survival and morality. An accomplished musician, her talent becomes her lifeline when she is recruited to join the camp's Women's Orchestra.

But the orchestra under the thunderous military rule is no ordinary one. Instead, it becomes a perverse tool of the oppressors, used to provide a veneer of sophistication and civility to the hideous machinations of the concentration camp. The musicians play as their fellow prisoners march to the gas chambers, a horrific backdrop that aggressively tests their sense of self, morality and humanity.

Jane Alexander portrays Alma Rosé, an accomplished Austrian violinist in real life and the conductor for the Auschwitz Women's Orchestra in the movie. A conflicver character, Alma's leadership style reflects the grim reality of their situation, emphasizing the continuous moral dilemmas they grapple within the camp. As Alma and Fénelon forge a bond, their relationship oscillates between solidarity, conflict, compassion and resentment, presenting a thought-provoking perspective on survival amidst the depths of despair.

Adding to the potent story and performances is the raw and honest direction by Daniel Mann, who masterfully conveys the tragic and uncomfortable truths in this film. The cinematic portrayal of the Holocaust is stark, unflinching, and devoid of any melodrama. Mann allows the narrative to demand sympathy and compassion via its inherent heaviness and torment, thereby steering clear of any forced sentimentality.

Another remarkable aspect of Playing for Time is the meandering screenplay. Arthur Miller, the renowned playwright, is responsible for carving out this dynamic narrative with the right mix of subtlety and drama. He successfully adapts Fénelon's memoir into a statement on the human spirit's endurance in the direst circumstances, all while paying respect to real experiences.

On a technical level, this movie was ahead of its time. Through engaging cinematography, the horrors of the Holocaust are captured vividly, inducing a measure of unease and discomfort in the viewers. This technical prowess, along with the compelling score and period-accurate production design, only heightens the film's haunting portrayal of Auschwitz.

Yet, it's the performances that steal the spotlight in this film. Vanessa Redgrave's captivating portrayal of Fénelon draws the audience into her ordeal, transforming not just herself but the viewers as well. Jane Alexander delivers a powerful performance as Alma, showing the audience her character's fraught mindset from multiple angles.

Playing for Time is a brave film that delves deep into a dark period of recent history, delivering a poignant depiction of survival, art, morality, and humanity in the face of ruthless oppression. It serves as a grim reminder of past atrocities, speaking to the resilience of human spirit in the direst of circumstances.

In all, Playing for Time is a harrowing yet inspiring Holocaust drama. It does not sugarcoat the grim reality of concentration camps but instead uses the power of art - music in its case - to reflect upon humanity's darkest hours. As difficult as it may be to watch, the movie engenders a sense of respect and admiration for those who fought for survival and dignity amidst such adversities.

Playing for Time is a Drama, Music, History, TV Movie movie released in 1980. It has a runtime of 148. Critics and viewers have rated it moderate reviews, with an IMDb score of 7.3..

Daniel Mann
Vanessa Redgrave, Christine Baranski
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