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Film / Quezon's Game

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Quezon's Game is a Philippine biographical film directed by Matthew Rosen and co-produced by Star Cinema, iWant, and Kinetek. First viewed in Canada in December 2018, it had its cinematic debut in Philippine Cinemas in May 2019. Set in 1938, the film explores a relatively unknown chapter in Philippine history prior to the onset of the Second World War. While struggling with a relapse of tuberculosis, then Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon (Raymond Bagatsing) and his allies worked toward the coordinated rescue of more than 1,200 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Think Schindler's List, but in the Philippines.

The film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Anger Born of Worry: Aurora Quezon lashes out at her husband for hiding the relapse of his tuberculosis from her and for pushing through with his duties despite his illness, knowing full well that he might die in the process, because she didn't want to be widowed.
  • Artistic License – History: A few in the set design (owing to difficulties finding or creating more accurate period sets). The Las Casas Filipinas living history museum, while pretty to look at, is still notably a lot neater in appearance than most of the real-life districts where much of the movie is set (and often landscaped differently, too, with cobblestoned streets far more common here than in the real Manila of the time). Real-life monuments in Manila from the period, including the Neoclassical government buildings from the Burnham reconstruction and the Manila Cathedral and other structures in the walled old city, are noticably absent. The Manila Hotel, MacArthur's residence, is never seen from the outside. Likewise, very few of the structures represent actual buildings from Manila. Somewhat justified in that most of these buildings (even those that stand today, including landmarks as famous as the Manila Cathedral and Manila Hotel) and their environments now look very different from how they looked in the 1930s—the wholesale destruction of Manila at the end of WWII, barely half a decade after the events of this film, and the high costs and low priority of accurate rebuilding is an obvious contributor to this.
    • Anachronism Stew: Most notably, the cars, while looking generally accurate-ish 1930s and 1940s models, drive on the right side of the road, with their steering wheels on the left—the current driving style in the Philippines, and of course, back in the U.S. In Real Life, prior to World War II, cars in the American Philippines drove on the left and had steering wheels on the right—i.e., British-style. (It was precisely the introduction of vast numbers of American military vehicles into the Philippine theatre of the war that forced the switch from left-hand to right-hand drive.)
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Manuel and Aurora Quezon's relationship is portrayed as this. Aurora acts jealous and is constantly nagging at a seemingly indifferent Manuel, but shows her softer side when he needs it the most. Manuel, meanwhile, returns the favor by being obstinate yet affectionate.
  • Based on a True Story
  • Bittersweet Ending: Manuel L. Quezon dies in exile as World War II comes to a close, never seeing the dawn of a fully independent Philippine nation. Although their efforts were eventually cut short during the invasion of the Philippines by Japan in World War II, Quezon and his allies were able to secure the safe passage of more than 1,200 Jewish refugees from Central Europe. A few interviews of the surviving refugees were played over the end credits.
  • Casting Gag: It's very likely Rachel Alejandro was cast as Doña Aurora Quezon in part because of her previous role in the 2017 Ang Larawan—both movies cast her as a high-society Filipina woman based in Manila in the late American colonial era proper, just prior to World War II.
  • The Chanteuse: Vera, the jazz/torch singer at the Hotel Oriente function, with her whole screaming Lady in Red dress. While at the Quezons' table the film even throws in a typical case of Doña Aurora (in a mild, comic show of something below jealousy) manoeuvring her back onstage before Vera can grab Manuel's attention for too long.
  • City of Canals: Manila. The city's canal system and the Pasig river—relatively pristine in this period—are frequently used as a means of transport.
  • Day of the Jackboot: The arrival of the SS officer marked the marginalization of the Jewish foreign nationals (Germans and Americans) in German-owned businesses across Manila. He also dressed down the German ambassador for flying the old Imperial flag in the embassy, insisting that it fly the flags of the Nazi party within the day.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Antisemitic and racist attitudes present at the time were not glossed over. The iniquity of these attitudes prevalent in America itself (including segregation) were used by Quezon to illustrate his point to his vice president to elicit sympathy for the Jewish refugees. Women are also not allowed to stay while their husbands discuss important matters.
  • Dichter Und Denker: Part of the rationale used by Quezon and his allies in allowing Jewish refugees into the country. They were doing so in the guise of bringing in skilled German and Austrian Jewish professionals to help design the planned new capital and further develop the fledgling nation.
  • Egopolis: Downplayed. Quezon announced moving the new capital of an independent Philippines inland to what was currently known as Balintawak. The guests at the unveiling insisted on naming the city after Quezon, who had earlier secured the eventual independence of the Philippines six years after the proposal.
  • Everybody Smokes: As per the period. Indeed, Alex Frieder was himself a tobacco magnate. It also unsurprisingly contributes to Quezon's own illness and death.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Lampshaded in the beginning where newsreels revealed the extent of the Holocaust across Europe
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: The film focuses on the upper and foreign ruling classes of Manila during 1938, shortly before the onset of the Second World War.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Adolf Hitler, who while not appearing in the film itself, is the true Big Bad. He is also The Unfought.
  • Historical Downgrade: Douglas MacArthur, often hailed as a hero in both Filipino and American historical study media, is a bit player in this film, where he dismisses the faith that Quezon has in the Filipino people and in the eventual independence of the country. The fact that Quezon's and MacArthur's historical friendship was only barely mentioned adds to this. Justified by the film taking place before his exploits in WWII.
  • Hero of Another Story: Eisenhower's future campaigns are alluded to by his constant desire to ship off to the war in Europe and is briefly mentioned in the epilogue.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: A sign of Quezon's relapsing tuberculosis.
  • Latin Land: Elite Filipinos (most of all Quezon himself) tend to have Hispanic names, cultural trappings, and attitudes, and are fluent in Spanish to boot. Quezon himself has Spanish blood and certainly looks the part. Their surroundings are also full of architecture that, while in some ways unique to the Philippines or shared with other Southeast Asian countries, also has heavy Spanish styling; intricate iron grillwork and cobblestoned streets are everywhere. (The fact that the shooting location was a purpose-built Spanish-colonial resort town, where old houses from the Spanish period were relocated or replicated, drives this Latin Land impression home even more, even if the Real Life Quezon's Manila was already more modernised and Americanised in many places.)
  • Melting-Pot Nomenclature: Spanish, Anglo-American, German, and European Jewish names are all represented here.
  • No Antagonist: Played with. Despite being set up as such, the SS officer did little to obstruct Quezon and his allies in getting the Jews out of Central Europe (indeed, he was quite happy with the idea of shipping the Jews off to the Philippines). The main opposition actually came from politicians in distant Washington. Although Quezon's political rival Emilio Aguinaldo appears from behind to exploit Quezon's increasing sidestepping of his party, his involvement in the plot is minimal. Adolf Hitler is mentioned multiple times but never appears.
  • No Hero to His Valet: Sergio Osmeña, vice president of the Philippines, does not appreciate Quezon's relentless desire to save the Jewish people and frequently calls him out on his actions (up until and including selling his own land to the Germans as a bribe) and his perceived neglect of his duties to the Filipino people.
  • Period Piece: Set in the 1930s.
  • Poirot Speak: Most of the Filipino politicians speak a mix of Filipino peppered with Spanish, as was the norm for the landed Mestizo ruling classes of the time. Justified for non-American foreign nationals; English is a language enforced by the occupying American forces, much to the chagrin of the SS officer sent to the country.
  • Puppet State: The Philippine Commonwealth to the United States, which had first invaded the archipelago 40 years earlier; while ostensibly preparing it for "independence", Filipino elites and politicians (including Quezon himself) maintain very close relationships with American elites and officials.
  • Recurring Element: Poker. Most of the planning by President Quezon and his allies that revolve around the refugee crisis were done over a game of cards.
  • Rousseau Was Right: Quezon's speech over the radio called for the people to protest the U.S. Congress' rejection of the visas for the refugees, which exerted enough pressure to eventually pave the way for the visas' eventual approval.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Quezon is willing to defy U.S. Congress and government protocol to bring German and Austrian Jews into the country.
  • Young Future Famous People: Dwight Eisenhower features heavily in this film.
  • You Are Not Alone: Aurora Quezon informs her husband of this; rather than carrying the emotional burden of the refugee crisis himself, he should call on others—his wife, children, political allies, and the people—to join in as well.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Quezon's cough, prelude to the tuberculosis which eventually kills him in Real Life.