"Politics is always a pissing contest". Thank-you Quezon's Game for giving us the film quote of the year in February.
Stellar quotes aside, Quezon's Game is about Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon and his crusade to save over one thousand Jews from a fate that they otherwise might have faced, at the hands of the Nazi party. At one point in the film, Quezon (Raymond Bagatsing) states that he doesn't want to be known for building a city or any number of other political ventures, instead, "I just want to be remembered as someone who did something, when no one else would". Guess what? Rather ironically, before going into this film, all I knew about President Manuel L. Quezon, is that Quezon City is named after him and that he features on the twenty peso note. It's for that reason, that I am so glad I watched this movie. It's a story that deserves to be told and it's unfortunate, that until viewing Quezon's Game, I had no idea what Manuel Quezon's greatest achievement actually was.
In a news broadcast, towards the beginning of the film, Quezon learns about 900-odd refugees, who are seeking asylum and are rejected by countries such as the U.S.A. and Canada. The newscaster is heard saying, "No thank-you, Mr. Hitler. You solve your own Jewish problem". Of course, at this point, Quezon, whose country is currently a part of the "Commonwealth of the United States of America", chooses to attempt to help. Initially, 10,000 Jewish people apply to enter the Philippines, and the U.S. (who have control over the Philippines' immigration allowance) deny Quezon the opportunity to allow these people into his own country. The people of the Philippines rise up in protest and in support of their president. I won't tell you how it ends (although I'm sure you've partially guessed). At this point, this story isn't just an important one to tell, in terms of Quezon's legacy as a president, but it also speaks to the hospitable nature of the people of the Philippines, who, having issues of their own, are more willing to extend a helping hand to those in need, than the powerful country that occupies them.
So, the concept for this film, is without a doubt a good one. However, I will admit that it was slow-going to watch this political drama in the cinema. The film is 2 hours and 7 minutes in total and a lot of that time slowly ticks by. In order to improve the pace, I either wanted 37 minutes shaved off the script completely, or for the first hour to focus on Quezon's efforts to save Jewish refugees, and the second hour (or act, rather) to focus on the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and the country's eventual independence. However, I think the $500,000 (estimated) budget definitely would have made the latter extraordinarily difficult to do well.
Being a low-budget film, it certainly isn't technically perfect. The sound design is the most problematic element for me. There are several scenes throughout the film where in the moments when a character is speaking, there is an undercurrent of background noise/buzzing. However, in the silence between the dialogue (after one character speaks, but before another starts), it is just that: silence. This is somewhat distracting to the viewing experience. Had the background noise occurred consistently throughout, it might have actually been less noticeable, than it was as is. In addition to this (though it may have been the fault of the cinema I was in), speech seemed to solely carry through the left hand speakers, whilst music and other noises travelled through all of the speakers. My right ear felt neglected, and was sick of the characters constantly delivering their lines to my left. #sharethelove #totherighttotheright
The colour-grading in this film also seemed unusual. Many of the indoor scenes appeared almost grey/sepia in tone. They are purposefully muted and perhaps this was an artistic choice that was made, based on the fact that this is a historical biopic. However, every time we cut to an outdoor location, the greens of nature, seem unsuppressed by any filter. This certainly outlines the beauty of the Philippines, but the contrast is incredibly noticeable. I still can't figure out if this was a purposeful choice. If it was, I'm not sure what meaning was meant to be communicated, and if it wasn't, it was certainly distracting.
Even on a poster for the film, this pattern appears to be replicated:
It may just be, that the beauty of the Philippines' natural environment cannot be filtered. Maybe they tried, and nature said no. Or maybe it looks like this for a reason? The questions I have about this, may just haunt me for a long while.
The acting is hit and miss. Whilst actors like Bagatsing and Rachel Alejandro (who plays Quezon's wife, Aurora), are enjoyable to watch, a large portion of the cast aren't. Some cast members are believable, but not necessarily enjoyable. Others, I must admit, I wanted replaced. At times, some of the performers lack so much authenticity, that it is distracting. Truth be told though, I am willing to forgive this. Like I said earlier, this is a story that deserves to be told, and on a $500,000 budget, you probably aren't going to be able to afford Daniel Day Lewis (I'm just guessing - however, I haven't fact-checked this assumption with Mr. Lewis' people).
Despite all of my above complaints, some of the dialogue in this film is extremely powerful. One such example below:
"There's a difference between an American who believes in segregation and a Nazi".
"Not to a Filipino".
There are plenty of other moments like this one and it's incredibly refreshing to see them unfold on camera.
According to good ol' IMDB, this film had a budget of approximately $500,000, and so far, it's cumulative worldwide gross is $5,986. No, that isn't missing a zero. This isn't the first Filipino film that I've ever seen. However, it's one of the best Filipino films I've ever seen. It deserves to earn more than what it currently has. If you live in Brisbane, this film is currently showing at Event Cinemas Chermside and Event Cinemas Garden City. Get along; give it a watch. It isn't perfect, but as I've already stated 17,000 times in this review, it's a story that deserves telling.