Just like we did with "Heneral Luna" and "Goyo," my whole family watched "Quezon's Game" together. Even if each ticket now costs P300 (a cool P1,500 for five of us), I made sure my children would watch important events of Philippine history unfold on a big screen, so that the impact and the lessons would become more indelible in their memory than when it was read off stuffy history books.
"Quezon's Game" was set during the days of Manuel L. Quezon as the president of our country when it was a Commonwealth under the jurisdiction of the United States. In 1938, it was brought to Quezon's attention that the Nazi government of Germany was about to send all Jews to death camps. Despite various setbacks (like his relapsed tuberculosis, resistance from colleagues, and bigoted American politics), Quezon worked out how he could save as many of these Jews as he could by granting them asylum in Manila.
Raymond Bagatsing played President Manuel L. Quezon as a very charismatic man and leader. Bagatsing had obviously studied the mannerisms and speaking style of the late president in order to give his best impersonation. He was very consistent in his efforts in portraying Quezon's dignity and compassion, as well as his compulsion for poker and cigars. Rachel Alejandro played Aurora Quezon as the supportive, loving wife who knew how to speak her mind in her homey, motherly Filipino-English accent. Indie actress Kate Alejandrino played Baby, Quezon's charming daughter.
Audie Gemora and Nor Domingo played future presidents Sergio Osmena and Manuel Roxas, respectively. The way they were portrayed in this film was eye-opening for me. I hope there will be follow-up movies about the transition of power of these two politicians we hardly knew anything about aside from their names. I noted several other Filipino stage actors playing bit roles in single scenes, like Jeremy Domingo as a nervous Chinese consul, Jef Flores as a snooty maitre d' of a German club, Chino Veguillas as Quezon's doctor, and Lorenz Martinez as a local politician.
Caucasian actors from the local theater scene were cast as American characters. David Bianco played Lt. Col. Dwight Eisenhower, while his real-life wife Jennifer Blair-Bianco played Ike's wife Mamie. James Paoleli played High Commissioner Paul McNutt, who placed his own political career on the line to help Quezon. Paul Holme played the hatefully bigoted consul Cartwright, as Miguel Faustman played the bearded retired Gen. Douglas McArthur. Dean Rosen, Hans Eckstein, and George Schultz were also cast in smaller roles.
Hollywood actor Billy Ray Galliion played the key role of Jewish cigar magnate Alex Frieder. It was Frieder who first received the news about the impending fate of Jews in Austria and Germany and brought this to Quezon's attention. Kevin Kraemer was remarkable for his chilling portrayal of SS officer Lt. Ebner. His cold icy stare gave his every scene had a sense of danger and tension.
The film was shot in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a resort in Bataan where ancestral houses and heritage buildings have been reconstructed back to their glory. So there can be some unavoidable inclusion of certain Spanish-era or current-era background details which may not entirely be true to 1930s Manila setting. The production designer had been very meticulous with various props and costumes, but there were still little things (like faucets, sink drains, doors, headsets or hairstyles) which were difficult to circumvent due to budget. Anyway, these little quibbles do not in any way detract from the power of the story.
Director Matthew Rosen, a British national of Jewish faith who was a veteran of advertising campaigns and music videos, told this interesting, not so well-known historical episode in a most compelling and engaging pace and manner which can readily appeal to all ages.
"Quezon's Game" focused on how one noble Filipino man all the way from the other side of the world cared enough, and was brave enough, to do something to save these Jews, when all odds are against him. This is an incredible tale of humanity which should not be forgotten, and this movie now made sure we don't. Do stay for the moving testimonial videos that accompany the closing credits.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."