In 1939, Philippines president Manuel Quezon gave sanctuary to 1,200 Jews from Germany and Austria as other countries slammed their doors shut. Quezon, a classy political operator, wheeled and dealed to obtain visas for the refugees from Washington, which controlled the borders of the Philippines, then a protectorate of the US. The story is a real-life political chess game with the makings of a gripping race-against-the-clock thriller; but here it drags out into sluggish, dull and unconvincing melodrama.
Raymond Bagatsing plays Quezon as a scotch-drinking, poker-playing statesman with movie-star charisma, riding a wave of public adulation. Indeed, a modicum of ego is the only flaw permitted in this saintly, rather bland character study. It’s not long after Kristallnacht, when Quezon is implored by poker buddy Alex Frieder (Billy Ray Gallion), a Jewish-American cigar manufacturer living in the Philippines, to rescue German Jews. They put an advert in a German newspaper for skilled Jewish workers. Dwight Eisenhower (David Bianco), then a military adviser to the Philippine government, is roped in to lobby the US government to extend the country’s visa quota.
The story climaxes with a showdown between Quezon and Roosevelt’s administration, which contains antisemites blocking the visas on spurious national security grounds. It should leave your heart pounding, but this is a leaden film with dialogue dominated by exposition. There is one desperately moving scene, though, in which Alex Frieder, the Jewish-American expat, weeps in agony as he is forced to pick 200 names from the list of thousands of Jewish applicants, for the first wave of immigration. In the end, Quezon’s plan to rescue 10,000 Jews was curtailed by the Japanese invasion of the Philippines.
• Quezon’s Game is released in the UK on 31 January.
Source: The Guardian