Quezon’s Game

                We all know that Schindler saved about 1,300 Jews from the Nazis.  But Quezon saved a similar number, and his name isn’t part of our cultural lore.  Yet.

                1938.  Hitler’s influence continues to grow, and his aggressiveness.  Many fear another war in Europe.  (It would come a year later.)  The Philippines seemed a long way away, but the war wasn’t far from them, either.  It was just going to come at the hands of the Japanese.  They would invade the day after Pearl Harbor, on December 8, 1941.

                But for now, as the dark clouds of war gathered on the horizon, the Philippines were at peace, even though they’d accepted some immigrants from Japanese-held Shanghai the year before.  They’d been a territory of the United States since being acquired from Spain after the war of 1898.  Therefore, there are three languages spoken in the movie:  native Tagalog, Spanish, and English.  And the President (Raymond Begatsing) and his wife Aurora (Rachel Alejandro) easily switch in their own conversations.

                Their interactions with the Americans were very close, particularly their Ambassador, Alex Frieder (Billy Ray Gallion) and the U.S. attache, Paul McNutt (James Paoleli), along with the military advisor to the Filipino government, a Lieutenant Colonel named Dwight Eisenhower (David Blanco).

                All were well aware of the tragic story of the German ocean liner “St. Louis,” which carried 900 Jewish refugees but was refused entry into Havana, and also the United States, and eventually returned to Europe.  Everyone was afraid of being inundated with refugees, so everyone turned a blind eye, and did nothing.

                In “Quezon’s Game,” President Quezon is portrayed as a young man with a severe health issue---a recurrence of tuberculosis.  He was literally coughing blood.  He knew he didn’t have long to live (in fact, he wouldn’t survive the war).  But despite his dreams of a completely independent Philippines (that would come after the war) and building a new city, he felt that his most important legacy would be having the courage to act to save what refugees he could.  He encounters opposition from within his own Cabinet, but he is determined to do the right thing.

                Don’t expect “Quezon’s Game” to be as impactful as “Shindler’s List.”  There’s a lot of footage of men talking and smoking cigars and drinking whiskey.  There’s quite a bit of interaction between Quezon and his wife, who’s concerned that he’s working himself to death.  The appearance of an SS officer as the new security chief of the German embassy seems a bit of a stretch (and he’s every bit the caricatured Nazi hatemonger, even condescendingly insulting the President’s daughter while dancing with her).  And casting a Filipino-American actress as Mamie Eisenhower (who was born in 1896 Iowa) was just a head-scratcher, as was Eisenhower’s uniform, which looked like a private’s surplus khakis.  And Gen. Douglas MacArthur as corpulent and bearded?  And to visit 1944, even briefly, without mention of the Japanese occupation?

                But despite its obvious flaws, this movie reminds us of an important story, especially in an age where fear of immigrants and racial discrimination are still worldwide issues. 

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association