Starring Raymond Bagatsing. In English and Tagalog, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
Most of the big stories of the Second World War have been told. So it’s refreshing when tale-spinners find something new to say. There’s certainly a lot to admire about the makers of Quezon’s Game, which dramatizes a bold move by top-level Filipinos to save imperilled Jewish refugees just before the war.
TV veteran Raymond Bagatsing is certainly charismatic enough to play Manuel Quezon. The first modern president of the Philippines was forward-thinking enough to plan a whole new city, and vain enough not to protest when his underlings wanted to name it after him. He was also preoccupied with speeding up the process of emancipation from the United States, which had been governing the place since the dubiously mounted Spanish-American War.
Quezon himself grew up under Spanish rule, and was part Spanish. The new leader quickly recognized the violently racist threat posed by the Nazi regime. At the time, though, he had to strike a delicate balance between European and Yankee higher-ups, the military and dissident members of his own government, and the looming Japanese army.
Unfortunately, the film’s telenovela lighting, stilted acting, and whistling synthesizer music don’t always suit the gravity of the story, while both Bagatsing and David Bianco, who plays future general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower, are at least 20 years too young for their parts.
There’s some fancy diplomacy afoot as Quezon, prodded by a Jewish businessman stranded in Manila (Billy Ray Gallion), butts up against German interference and blatant anti-Semitism in the U.S. State Department. The best parts of the movie have less to do with politics and history than with simple tourism. The wide-angle, colour-rich cinematography of exterior settings is enhanced by all the white suits and vintage cars.
All that said, the movie has an audacious streak, in that the filmmakers, led by transplanted Yank director Matthew Rosen, are genuinely interested in the politics of the period. Limits to the budget and acting ability dampen its vision, but the script is surprisingly frank about the island-packed country’s rocky road to independence, its tough spot in the war, and its subsequent relationship with the U.S. Clips of actual survivors are included in the credits, after a longish two hours that get most interesting toward the end.