Quezon’s Game is a drama directed by Matthew Rosen and written by Janice Y. Perez and Dean Rosen. The multilingual film stars Raymond Batasing as Philippine president Manuel Quezon and has him working towards one of his lesser-known feats: granting Jewish refugees sanctuary in the Philippines.
Review by Junior Associate Beatrice Viri
Quezon’s Game is inspired by real events, a tale advocating unity and what’s morally right despite the pressure of staying neutral. It’s very relevant in today’s political climate, with not just the Philippines’ controversial leader, but other countries who propose bans and close their borders to refugees. Spoken in three languages (Spanish, English, and Tagalog), reflecting the Philippines’ vast history with colonization, the country at first celebrates its alliance with the United States and impending independence. Led by second president Manuel Quezon, a charismatic man “like a movie star”, things seem to be progressing smoothly — that is, until the German embassy receives a new ambassador who swears by the Nazi party and Hitler’s word.
Hearing news of persecution by the Nazi party abroad, Jewish oil tycoon Alex Frieder (Billy Ray Gallion), a good friend of Quezon, begs for him to accept refugees. However, the Philippines is still a Commonwealth of the United States and has a visa restriction of only 200. Quezon’s Game drags on with exaggerated drama but has sincere intention, following not only Quezon’s struggle with a moral dilemma as a leader of a new country but his health after a relapse of tuberculosis.
Admittedly, I didn’t expect much coming into the film. There are many great Filipino historical films, like Heneral Luna and Goyo, but I grew up associating Filipino cinema with teleseryes, our version of telenovelas. I think that Quezon’s Game is great for older generations who love that type of storytelling, but avid filmgoers and non-Filipinos might not like the acting. It’s a little cheesy and awkward, playing like an exaggerated soap opera. Still, there are some compelling performances most notably, by Rachel Alejandro, who plays Quezon’s wife Aurora and pleads for him to take care of his health as the stress triggers his disease. Another moment also stood out, where Quezon tells vice president Sergio Osmeña (Audie Gemora) that in the White House people still regard Filipinos as “colored” and that is why they should have compassion towards the Jewish struggle.
As we exited the movie, I heard some older Titas rave on about the film. They were shocked that tinago ng history natin! — that our history was hidden from us. I don’t want to fully bash Quezon’s Game acting, even though I personally didn’t enjoy it; that interaction made me realize the film’s potential. The film could have been executed better and its length certainly could have been cut — but Quezon’s Game got people excited and caring about their history, and the impact is what’s most important.
There are more important aspects to nitpick at, anyway. During our movie discussion, Jan, FF2Media’s CEO and Jewish history expert informed us about Quezon’s Game’s historical inaccuracy. After skimming the web for factual checking, the characters and most events are accurate, but the one flaw that Jan fatally pointed out is that no one actually knew the Holocaust would happen. Jewish people escaped their homes anxious about what would come, but most of the world did not know the Holocaust happened until after the war. Thus, much of the dialogue regarding this is incorrect.
Quezon’s Game brings a hidden tale of solidarity to light. The film doesn’t quite live up to its attempted ambition, but with a constrained budget it at least emits sincerity and informs of an interesting piece of history many Jewish people and Filipinos don’t know about.
Photos: Promotional poster of Quezon’s Game, James Paoleli and Raymond Batasing as Paul McNutt and Manuel Quezon in Quezon’s Game
Photo Credits: Star Cinema
Beatrice Viri © 2/14/2020
Does Quezon’s Game pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?
No, it doesn’t. It’s mostly centered on men, and the women are always talking to or with men.