Sometimes it seems like every story about WWII has been told. It’s a particularly cinematic war because the heroes and villains are easy to separate (or at least on the surface it is). Nevertheless, I am always amazed to find new movies about the conflict, with new and fresh takes. Such is the case with the film Quezon’s Game, which is getting a US release starting this Friday. The film has problems but overall it’s a moving piece of history I was unfamiliar with.
When watching Quezon’s Game it is important to remember it was made on a tiny budget. As a result, it has the feel of a TV movie and not even a high budget Hallmark TV movie. (Quezon’s budget is $500,000 US where a typical Hallmark movie is around $2 million). It will be up to individual viewers whether the admittedly cheap looking production values keep them from enjoying the story but as I am quite accustomed to TV movies it didn’t bother me.
The story is what I found compelling. Quezon’s Game tells the true tale of Philippine President Manuel L Quezon (Raymond Bagatsing). In 1938 he was presented with an opportunity to help 1200 Jewish refugees trying to escape the impending horrors of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. This was a difficult decision for Quezon because the Phillipines had not gained independence from The United States at that point the US had already refused to take in refugees.
President Quezon is definitely presented here as a hero and the Philippines as a country is shown in bold nationalistic strokes but I was fine with that. I enjoy heroic, inspirational stories and figure every nationality and culture deserves to have their historical heroics portrayed from time to time on the big screen. The main lead performances of Bagatsing as Manuel and Rachel Alejandro as his wife work quite well. You can see him wanting to be a better man but worrying about the consequences. Of course, this makes his eventual triumph all the more meaningful because he had doubts.
Unfortunately, most of the supporting performances stand out and not in a good way. Many of the line readings come off as clunky and inauthentic. Again, it feels more like a TV movie instead of a feature film and that’s a problem. The film is also too long and could benefit from at least 20 minutes being hacked out.
Enjoyment of Quezon’s Game will depend a lot on your tolerance for its level of production design and acting. I am someone who cares most about story so I found myself more than willing to forgive the problems. You can probably wait and rent it but if you want to learn more about a fascinating piece of WW2 history give this a watch.
6 out of 10