A nostalgic journey into a bygone era
Quezon’s Game, which is topbilled by Raymond Bagatsing (right) as President Manuel L. Quezon, dazzles as a highly poignant drama inspired by history and boasts of a tight and versatile acting ensemble.
A nostalgic journey into a bygone era
Pablo A. Tariman (The Philippine Star) - June 4, 2019 - 12:00am

Film review: Quezon's Game

MANILA, Philippines — More than a historical drama, Matthew Rosen’s Quezon’s Game is also a nostalgic journey into a bygone era.

This is the time President Manuel L. Quezon took over as the head of the Commonwealth government (1935-1941).

This is also the precarious time Jews were herded into concentration camps never to be found again.

In 1939, an influential Jewish family from Austria sent Herbert Zipper to Manila after spending some time in the concentration camp in Dachau some 16 kilometers away from Munich.

Zipper became the second conductor of the Manila Symphony Orchestra founded by Alexander Lippay in 1926.

This is also the time people took water taxis on their way to Hotel de Oriente in Binondo. The waterways then were clean and commuters have not heard of bad traffic.

At this time, soprano Mercedes Matias Santiago just returned from studies in Italy and was singing Amina (La Sonnambula) at the Manila Grand Opera House. The opera that started early evening was interrupted by brownout during the sleepwalking scene and resumed early morning next day.

 President Quezon was in the audience. The Commonwealth president later gave her a teaching position at the UP College of Music and her student assistant was the young Lucrecia Kasilag who would become the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) president and National Artist for Music. In between her schoolwork, the maestra gave Mrs. Quezon regular voice lessons at the Palace.

There is an intriguing scene at the presidential ball when the singer keeps her eye contact with the President (Raymond Bagatsing) while a suspicious, if not furious Mrs. Aurora Quezon (Rachel Alejandro) looks on.

Like it or not, these scenes humanize the Commonwealth president and his first lady until the serious discussion on how to save some 1,200 Jews come into the picture and the ladies have to transfer to another table.

Indeed, the screenwriters (Janice Perez and Dean Rosen) made sure they stick to the story and how tightly the film narrative unraveled.

While President Quezon was sympathetic to the cause of the persecuted Jews, he had to get the sympathy (read: official approval) of his cabinet and the US authorities.

Then Vice President Sergio Osmeña (Audie Gemora) reminded him that Filipinos should be his top priority and to make things worse, there are forces of anti-Semitism in the Roosevelt cabinet.

In all likelihood, saving an initial 1,200 Jews was an impossible dream. The internal and external political forces were simply against the plan.

But against all odds as President Quezon planned strategies with his poker friends, the rescue plan was carried out with good result.

The rest, of course, is history that remained untold even in history books.

Quezon’s Game dazzles with a tight and versatile acting ensemble.

What John Arcilla did in Heneral Luna Bagatsing brilliantly matched in Quezon’s Game.

The Commonwealth president as ladies’ man and loving husband Bagatsing managed to capture in his well-defined role.

Alejandro as Mrs. Quezon was just right for the part, not overbearing but still capable of creating marital havoc.

The other members of the ensemble were just as memorable, namely David Bianco as Dwight D. Eisenhower, James Paoleli as the American High Commissioner Paul McNutt and Gemora as then Vice President Osmeña.

But there is genuine pathos and intuitive portrayal in the part of Billy Ray Gallion as Alex Frieder. The fear of impending death of his compatriots was clearly written all over his face he stood out without elaborate dialogue.

Of course, there is more to be said about the highly inspired direction of Rosen who managed to lead a creative team with commendable result.

What came out was a highly poignant drama inspired by history.

On the side, it was jolting to hear the most quoted speech of President Quezon delivered with such impetus by Bagatsing: “I prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos to a government run like heaven by Americans.”

As expected, Quezon’s Game got a unanimous Grade A rating from the Cinema Evaluation Board.

Produced by Star Cinema, Quezon’s Game is now showing in cinemas.

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