Review: Quezon’s Game

Year: 2019
Runtime: 2h 7min
Director: Matthew E. Rosen
Writers: Janice Perez, Dean Rosen
Stars:  Raymond Bagatsing, Rachel Alejandro, Kate Alejandrino, Billy Ray Gallion

By Joan Amenn

“Could I have done more?” -Manuel Quezon

Poker often appears in film as an analogy to some other plot point to heighten the tension of the action. In “Quezon’s Game” (2019) poker is not just a typical cinematic cliché. Through a series of seemingly innocuous nights of cigar smoke and friendly card dealing, the lives of hundreds of desperate people were saved. This is an uplifting and heartrending true story of hope and crushing loss, framed in Manuel Quezon (Raymond Bagatsing) viewing newsreel footage with his wife, Aurora (Rachel Alejandro).

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“Quezon’s Game” was co-written by Janice Perez based on an original story by Lorena and Matthew Rosen. While the film’s budget is quite small the production captured the flavor of the era before the war nicely by including a swing band at the presidential palace and the previously mentioned recreation of newsreels.

The Frieder brothers were prosperous tobacco farmers in the Philippines in the years previous to World War II. When they were not supplying President Quezon with the fruits of their labors, they organized the Jewish Refugee Committee of Manila after receiving word of increasing danger to their people in Germany. Alex Frieder (Billie Ray Gallion) is depicted as being a close friend to Quezon and instrumental in the creation of the plan to save as many Jewish lives as possible. Billie Ray Gallion is excellent as a man who clings to hope as he conspires over rounds of poker against impossible odds.

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This is an uplifting and heartrending true story of hope and crushing loss, framed in Manuel Quezon (Raymond Bagatsing) viewing newsreel footage with his wife, Aurora (Rachel Alejandro).

Bagatsing’s Quezon is charismatic and vulnerable, defiant and compassionate as he faces his own losing battle with tuberculosis. The film wisely does not depict him as a saint. It is implied that he is egotistical, controlling and may have had a roaming eye for the ladies.

His wife is a formidable woman who regrets her lack of education but can more than hold her own in speaking her mind to her husband. She is played with fierce determination by Alejandro but never degrades into a shrew. Aurora was obviously the center of her husband’s world. She supported his machinations around the bigotry of the Roosevelt administration and the horror of Nazi Germany.

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Quezon is told by Eisenhower (David Bianco) that war is coming that would affect his country too with the imminent threat of Japan allying with Germany and then aiming to control the islands of the Pacific. It becomes a race against time to secure his own legacy as President of the Philippines as well as realize his humanitarian effort in Europe.

Bagatsing’s Quezon is charismatic and vulnerable, defiant and compassionate as he faces his own losing battle with tuberculosis. The film wisely does not depict him as a saint.

“The question “Quezon’s Game” leaves us is what are we willing to do to continue his fight against oppression in the world? It begs us not to forget that the fight continues to this day. The 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is January 27th. This film is a fitting tribute to the people who struggled to deliver as many as possible from the fate that awaited them there and similar places.

5 stars

“Quezon’s Game” is released in  U.S./Canadian theaters Jan. 24.

For theater locations, visit: https://www.quezonsgame.com/screening

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