Quezon’s Game


Another scene of indifferent dramatic tension.

(2018) Biographical Drama (ABS-CBNRaymond Batagsing, Rachel Alejandro, Kate Alejandrino, Billy Ray Gallion, David Bianco, Jennifer Blair-Bianco, Tony Ahn, James Paoleli, Jeremy Domingo, Ross Barnaby McLeod. Directed by Matthew E. Rosen

 

It is to the world’s shame that when the unfolding horrors of the Holocaust were taking place in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the world – including the United States – largely turned a blind eye. There were, however, some individuals who saw what was coming and took commendable action to save as many as they could.

One such was the President of the Philippines, Manuel Quezon (Batagsing). A young, charismatic leader, he would be forever remembered in his home country as the man who negotiated his country’s freedom from being an American protectorate. His role in the Holocaust is a story that isn’t often told, not even in his native land.

He faced an uphill battle. In attempting to grant visas for 10,000 Jews trapped in the ghettos of Austria and Germany, he ran into all kinds of American red tape and resistance. He would be aided in his quest by Jewish-American businessman Alexander Frieder (Gallion), British diplomat Paul McNutt (Paoleli) and future American president Dwight D. Eisenhower (Bianco). He was also supported by his wife Aurora (Alejandro), despite whispers of an extramarital affair with a torch singer (for which there is little historical corroboration). He also did this while negotiating with the Americans for the independence of his nation – and battling the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him six years later.

This Filipino production has a bit of irony to it, considering the anti-immigration stance that has resurfaced in the United States in the lat few years. The current President of the Philippines also suffers in comparison to Quezon, not just in his hagiographic portrayal here but to the historical figure who did so much for his people. That the kind of political forces that Quezon fought have reared their ugly heads 80 years after the fact is not so much terrifying as it is disappointing.

Quezon’s story deserves to be told in a grand way, but the production is hampered by budgetary constraints. While the locations do a good job of presenting 1938 Manila, the script tends to have characters describing events rather than showing them onscreen. I’m not sure if this was a budgetary thing, but the color is often washed out to being nearly black and white, then reverting to full color without any rhyme or reason. It’s annoying and unnecessary.

With the exception of Batagsing who gives a decent performance as the late Filipino President, the acting is often stiff and uneven. It doesn’t help that the subplot of the affair that Aurora suspects her husband is having is shoehorned in and seems at odds with the rest of the film; the more than two hour length could well have been trimmed somewhat.

On the positive side, Dean Rosen’s Philip Glass-inspired score is quite haunting and serves the film well, but there is a bit too much speechifying and posturing to make this truly entertaining. It’s a real shame too, because this is a story that deserves to be told, especially in these times. I hope someday someone tells it a bit better than this.

REASONS TO SEE: Tells a story not often told in the West. The score is beautiful and seems to be inspired by Philip Glass. The actors resemble their historic counterparts keenly.
REASONS TO AVOID: Uneven performances throughout. The black and white and color imagery seems to be too arbitrarily done. Overly long and overly sudsy.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Quezon City, at one time the capitol of the Philippines, was partially designed by Quezon and bears his name.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/11/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 43% positive reviews: Metacritic: 36/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Schindler’s List
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
After Parkland

Girl Model


Girl Model

Meat markets come in all sorts of varieties.

(2011) Documentary (Cinereach) Nadya Vall, Ashley Arbaugh, Madlen, Tigram. Directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin

There is a certain glamour inherent with the modeling industry. Beautiful girls flown to exotic locations, dressing in designer couture, adored by millions. So when talent agents come calling, it’s not hard to understand why young girls answer with eyes full of stars.

One such agent is Ashley Arbaugh who herself was a teen model. Her territory is mostly the former Soviet Union where she plucks young girls to work in the lucrative Japanese market. The promise of easy cash and a foot in the door of an industry that’s notoriously hard to break into brings girls swarming to try-outs, particularly in economically depressed places like Siberia.

Nadya Vall lives in a small village in Siberia. Her parents are poor; they live in a tiny little house that her father has been adding on additional room so that his children may have rooms of their own. However work has stalled on that as he is barely making enough money to make ends meet as it is.

Her shy, sweet demeanor and lustrous child-like beauty get her a contract with Ashley and her Russian boss Tigram. Tigram sees himself as a kind of savior for these young girls, taking them out of bad situations and giving them fame and fortune. Of course, he gets a cut of both but that’s a small price to pay isn’t it?

Nadya sets out for Tokyo and things turn into a nightmare from there. Nobody from the agency meets Nadya at the airport; she is lost, not knowing where to go or what to do and doesn’t speak any other language than Russian; tearfully she begs the filmmakers to translate to English to the Japanese clerks to find out information as to where she can find the apartment she’s supposed to stay at.

Eventually things sort themselves out and she is set up in a tiny little apartment that looks to be the size of a walk-in closet. She has a roommate, Madlen, who is supposed to share the space with her – and it’s not a lot of space, let’s face it.

Japanese law requires her to have two paying jobs in order to remain in the country for the full length of the visa. She is sent to try-out after try-out, to shoot after shoot with no sales forthcoming. The two are made to realize that if their measurements increase even by a centimeter they will be sent packing and not paid; in fact, because of the cost of their apartment and their airfare, they will be deep in debt to the agency.

Homesickness, the psychological wear and tear of not being wanted and the general indifference of those who are supposed to be watching over them take their toll. Madlen, who at last has a credit card from her family that allows her to purchase food, eats her way back home on purpose leaving Nadya alone in a country that she doesn’t understand – and at 13 years old, is she really equipped to handle this situation?

This is absolutely riveting stuff. There are no real regulatory agencies that watch over these girls. 13 and 14 year old girls are encouraged to lie about their ages and are sent to Japan and other countries unsupervised and essentially thrown out into the waters to sink or swim – and they mostly sink. There is a good deal of hypocrisy – Arbaugh tells her next set of girls airily that everyone makes money in Japan after we’ve just clearly seen two girls who returned home deeply in debt, and we are given the impression that it isn’t all that uncommon. Everybody gets paid but the models.

This isn’t just exploitation, it’s white slavery. There needs to be an industry watchdog to ensure that these girls get proper supervision, understand what it is they’re getting into and have some regulatory power to watch that the girls aren’t exploited. Unfortunately, as Arbaugh herself says late in the film, it isn’t much of a step to go from modeling to prostitution. After all, both are instances of a woman selling her body.

I didn’t expect that there was a story here that I’d be hooked by. Fashion interests me not in the least and I’d always had the perception that models are mostly self-absorbed divas who had a very easy life that required very little work on their part. After all, how hard can looking beautiful be?

Obviously, being a guy makes me completely dumb and uneducated as to how hard work it is for women to look beautiful, models or no so perhaps I can be forgiven for my ignorance. However one screening of this documentary is enough to shock my system into understanding that there is exploitation of children going on in this industry – and it needs to be stopped.

REASONS TO GO: Compelling and heartbreaking. Eye-opening look on a shadowy world.

REASONS TO STAY: Pounds its point a little bit too relentlessly. May have benefitted from some follow-up.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some sexuality, some profanity and some adult situations.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Following the making of the film, Arbaugh got a job with Elite Models in New York scouting American girls.

CRITICAL MASS: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Picture Me

JAPAN LOVERS: Some aspects of the Japanese culture are explored here.  

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Monsieur Lazhar