In 1938, the Philippine president, Manuel L. Quezon, rescued more than 1,200 German Jews from Nazi ghettos and gave them refuge. It’s a remarkable slice of history that seems made for a political thriller: While hatching his rescue plans, Quezon endured internecine conflicts, a relapse of tuberculosis and the final years of American colonial rule in his country. Unfortunately, in Matthew Rosen’s fictionalized take, “Quezon’s Game,” this story of intrigue turns stiff and sentimental.
The film captures a fascinating historical juncture. Several Americans, including Dwight D. Eisenhower (David Bianco), aided Quezon (Raymond Bagatsing) in his efforts to save Jews, even as he was negotiating his country’s transition to independence. Yet the real challenge Quezon faced wasn’t getting the refugees out of Germany but persuading the United States to grant them visas to the Philippines. His ethical mission became entwined with his quest for sovereignty: In one of the film’s most forceful moments, Quezon tells American officials that, to Filipinos, there is little difference between a Nazi and an American segregationist.
This political back-and-forth is, however, cheapened by the broad, near-hagiographic strokes with which Rosen paints his leading characters, who spend most of the run-time speechifying between stagy puffs of cigars. The stakes of every plot turn are detailed in the most heavy-handed manner possible: A scene in which Quezon and his collaborator, a Jewish-American businessman, Alex Frieder (Billy Ray Gallion), cross names off a visa list is clumsily intercut with glimpses of executions. Amid all the scenery-chewing, though, Bagatsing proves to be a saving grace with a sincere, rousing performance that adds some grandeur to this bare-bones production.
Rated PG-13. Holocaust images. In English and Tagalog, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes.