Quezon’s Game (2019) *** Holocaust Memorial Day 2020

January 27th, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Matthew Rosen; Cast: Raymond Bagatsing, Rachel Alejandro, Kate Alejandrino, Billy Gallion, David Bianco, James Paoleli; Philippines 2018, 127 min.

This bio-pic chronicles the final years of President Manuel L. Quezon (1878-1944), who helped to rescue 1200 Jews from Europe and gave them a home in the Philippines. Despite an over-emotional approach and the slight manipulation of historical dates, Matthew Rosen makes an important contribution to the history of the Holocaust. Few of us were aware of Quezon’s mission, which was cut short in 1941 when Japan invaded Quezon’s country, the latter spending his last years in exile in the USA, where he died from Tuberculosis.

Quezon (Bagatsing) is shown as a reformer and humanist, who, upon learning about the plight of German and Austrian Jews, set in motion a rescue programme, putting him at odds with President Roosevelt and Congress, who then rejected a rise in the quota of Jewish emigrants to the USA. Quezon’s action is particular courageous, since the Philippines were (until 1946) part of Commonwealth of the USA, and de facto a colony. Quezon was helped by a young Dwight Eisenhower (Bianco) and Roosevelt’s political associate Paul McNutt (Paoleli). Help also came in the from of a Jewish lawyer, Alex Fiedler (Gallion) who (together with his brother Herbert) found a way to get the exit visas into the hands of the waiting Jews, before the death camps made escape impossible.

Meanwhile, Quezon’s wife Aurora (Alejandro) and daughter Baby (Alejandrino), who would go on to be assassinated in 1949, provide the dutiful supporting cast. It also emerges that the real Quezon was quite a lady’s man and, so much so that “Aurora had to seek refuge in prayers” (according to her biographer). Even though Quezon was sixty when the film starts, Rosen casts a much younger actor to play his part, Bagatsing portrays the president as a Dandy who coughs  non-stop.

There are some inconsistencies: It is hardly likely that Eisenhower would have been posted to a regional backwater like the Philippines just five years before Operation Overlord. Also, the bookends of the feature, showing Manuel and Aurora watching newsreels from the liberation of the death camps (Manuel whispering, like Schindler, that he did not do enough) is hardly credible, since Quezon died in the of August 1944. 

But whatever the machinations of writers Janice Y. Perez and Dean Rosen, Manuel L. Quezon was a beacon of light of light in a dark time – much more than his American counterparts: Democrats and Republicans both condoned segregation; Jews, People of Colour and Dogs were advised by signs not to enter restaurants and other public places, and the Statue of Liberty was an empty symbol long before Donald Trump. Quezon’s Game might be aesthetically questionable at times, but it it does not detract from its importance.AS

IN HONOUR OF HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY | 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz. 

  

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