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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jun 15, 2019


raymond as quezon with kevin kraemer, david bianco & billy ray gallion

‘QUEZON’S GAME’ is not really a film biography on the life of Pres. Manuel Luis Quezon but focuses only on his little known heroic efforts to save more than 1,000 Jews persecuted by the Nazis from the ghettos of Austria.

We’ve seen many movies and docus about the Holocaust, including the definitive 1978 mini-series “Holocaust” which starred Meryl Streep. Nowhere is it mentioned that Jewish refugees were also sent to the Philippines, so “Quezon’s Game” is a real eye-opener of a footnote in our history.

The movie is said to be based on true events, but it has a disclaimer that certain events and persons have been changed for dramatic license. It opens with a scene in Saranac Lake, NY, in 1944 with Quezon (Raymond Bagatsing) and his wife Aurora (Rachel Alejandro) watching a newsreel showing the inhumanity of the Nazis in the genocide that is the Holocaust. Quezon then asks his wife: “Could have I done more?”

Then the film goes back to Manila in 1938, shot in Bagac’s reconstructed heritage and ancestral houses in Las Casas de Acuzar, with vintage cars, the tranvia, horse-drawn carriages. We don’t really know if Manila really looked like this then, but it looks good on screen and helps us suspend our disbelief. Quezon has recuperated from a bout with tuberculosis and yet still smokes cigars, drinks alcohol, plays poker in smoke-filled rooms.

We may have our reservations about the movie, but we guess we should all just be thankful that historical films like this are still being made, just like Jerrold Tarog’s take on Antonio Luna and Gregorio del Pilar. We actually know very little about Quezon other than he was the president of the Commonwealth Era from 1935 until his death in 1944 during World War II as a president in exile in N.Y.

He handled the problem of the rebellious landless peasants known as the Huks and he created a new city known as Balintawak, but which his sychophants insisted would be better off named as Quezon City. These bits of information are included in the movie. He fiercely fought for independence and it was finally granted in 1946, two years after his passing. His remains now lie buried at the Quezon Memorial Circle.

A Jewish man he has helped before, Alex Frieder (Billy Ray Gallion), brings to his attention the growing Nazi terrorism in Europe where Jews are sent to death camps. Fighting bigotry and racism, he then tries his best to save as many Jews as possible, at a time when anti-Semitic Americans are shunning them. He has to go against many odds. Even his own friends like Sergio Osmena (Audie Gemora) and Manuel Roxas (Nor Domingo) oppose his idea of helping the Jews.

Then his tuberculosis came back with a vengeance. Despite this, he fights back by appealing to public opinion. This leads to protest rallies and the Americans eventually relent and issue visas to the Jewish refugees. The final scene where the refugees arrive in river taxis touches the right emotional chords to make the film more than a passing interest, what with the testimonials from the surviving Jews shown in the end credits.

What holds the film together is Raymond Bagatsing’s compelling portrayal of the charismatic leader who’s not portrayed as a saint as he is even seen flirting with a sexy singer (making his wife jealous). He smokes, drinks and gambles. Bagatsing works carefully to show depth and complexity to his character.

A scene that stands out for us is when he gives instructions to Osmena on the latter’s coming visit to the White House. He will not be allowed to U.S. the restroom in the oval office but will be directed to a toilet meant for colored folks. He also adds that even in our own Dewey (now Roxas) Blvd., there’s a sign in the Army Navy Club at the Luneta which says: “No dogs and Filipinos allowed.”

Bagatsing is adequately supported by a large ensemble cast led by Rachel Alejandro as his patient, caring wife, and several Caucasian actors recruited from the local theatre scene, including David Bianco as Dwight Eisenhower (future U.S. president), James Paoleli as High Commissioner Paul McNutt, Kevin Kraemer as the German officer named Ebner and Paul Holme as the repulsive racist consul Cartwright.

Technical credits are above average, but it is pretty obvious that the movie is made intended for iWant’s live streaming services and they just gave it a theatrical release first. Many shots of Director Matthew Rosen are very tight and very up close, making it evidently more ideal for television.

Also, the movie, at more than two hours, can surely stand a lot of trimming. Some scenes can be edited to quicken the pacing and make it less talky. There are some portions in the screenplay of Janice Perez and Dean Rosen that are just too chatty and induces sleep. Despite our quibbles, it’s a movie worth watching especially these days when we have despotic leaders and discrimination is rampant.

“Quezon’s Game” will remind us that Filipinos even then are very considerate of other nations. This was proven true once again more recently when the Vietnamese boat people were escaping from the Communists and we set up two Vietnamese communities in Morong, Bataan. We’ve met many Vietnamese in America who have fond memories of their stay there.

Because of Quezon’s sympathy with the Jews at a time when other nations rejected them, a monument was built in Israel to pay tribute to Quezon and we Filipinos are now allowed to visit their country even without a visa.