Wednesday, January 22, 2020

QUEZON'S GAME: Matthew Rosen's film is a welcome addition to Jewish Holocaust heritage

TrustMovies will wager that not too many of us, old folk or young, know that much about the work done by the Philippines during the late 1930s toward saving Europeans Jewry from the Nazis' savage grasp. Manuel Quezon, the title character of the film at hand, served as president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines from 1935 to 1944. In his day, this handsome man cut quite the figure, even adorning the cover of Time Magazine back in 1935.

Now comes a movie, QUEZON'S GAME, produced in and by the Philippines, that concentrates on Quezon and his very worthwhile efforts to provide a place for Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler's horrors.

Nicely acted by its able cast, and well-directed and photographed by Matthew E. Rosen, on probably a rather small budget that still manages to look pretty big, with beautiful production values, sets, costumes and all the rest, where the movie misses somewhat is in its too-standard screenplay and some questionable casting choices.

That screenplay, credited to Janice Y. Perez and Dean Rosen (shown below, who also acts in the film), is too paint-by-numbers and offers some fairly thudding exposition, as when Quezon tells his fellow politicians how he can help the country, "...Just like four years ago, when I secured our independence." Quezon is played by the very handsome Philippines-born actor Raymond Bagatsing (above), who has more than 100 credits on his IMDB page and turns in a credible, serious performance.

The movie posits that Quezon, aware that is dying of tuberculosis, determines to do what he and the Philippines can to help rescue the Jews from Hitler's grasp, and so sets about circumventing the USA -- from whom the Philippines has not quite yet become totally independent -- and our way-too-tight immigration policies regarding Jews in order to bring a good amount of these refugees to settle in the Philippines. (Quezon had hoped to rescue 10,000, but the final number proves a good deal less.)

The movie's main villain -- other than the nasty Nazi head of security for the German Embassy in the Philippines (played in wiley/sleazy fashion by Kevin Kraemer, above, left) is a character named Consul General Jonathan Cartwright, whom I suspect to be a compilation of various anti-semites who have labored in our government down the decades and were particularly abrasive and hurtful during the period leading up to and including World War II. When one of Quezon's associates informs Cartwright of this mass immigration plan, the shocked bigot responds with, "Jews? Really? They're worse than niggers." The anti-Semitic/anti-Negro stance here is both startling and all-too-believable -- for its time and, more unfortunately, for our own.

The movie gets bogged down in cliché regarding Quezon's tuberculosis and his wife's (Rachel Alejandro, above) response to it, with the music soaring and the melodrama rather boring. Douglas Sirk, I think, would blush at some of this.

The very oddball casting of a young actor -- David Bianco (above, left), who looks to be maybe just out of college -- to play Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was in his 40s at the time, seems rather crazy. Mr. Bianco is a perfectly good actor, as is his (I'm guessing here) wife, Jennifer Blair-Bianco, who plays Mamie Eisenhower. But Bianco looks way too young, and his wife looks more like a Filipino than an American Mamie, so these casting choices are more than a little questionable.

Still, it will be difficult not to find yourself hugely engaged in the climatic scene involving government officials, Eisenhower and Quezon, as all of them battle out immigration policy, during which a number of choice morsels are offered up. The best of these comes as the racist Cartwright character exclaims, "There is a difference between an American who believes in segregation and a Nazi!" To this Quezon replies, "Not to a Filipino."

The finale, too, is quite moving, as the refugees begin arriving on shore via small boats -- even if the movie's denouement smacks of the worst moment  ("Oooooh, I should have saved more!") from Schindler's List. Overall, though, the film's message of Philippine history and its great caring and service to the Jews is very much worth sharing and celebrating.

Quezon's Game, in English and Tagalog, with English subtitles, opens theatrically this Friday, January 24, in nearly 40 theaters nationwide, including the AMC Empire 25 in New York City, and then in nearly an equal amount the following week. Click here to view the roster of theaters and cities across the USA in which the film will be playing.

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