Saturday, 28 November 2015
Blind Spot: Casablanca
Of all the films on all the lists, I picked Casablanca for this one. My poor attempt at my own spin on a famous quote from the film. But it's true, Casablanca is the white whale of my 'to watch list'. It was about time I saw it and I got to see it in one of the best possible ways, on the big screen. The BFI have different seasons through the year and this Autumn its all about love.
I had heard but not read about Casablanca, with friends and family, mostly family, telling me little facts about the film. My favourite being that no one knew what was going on during filming and that the script wasn't even finished when shooting started. It sounded amazing, just like any other film. Usually with films that have such a great standing about filmmakers, critics and the audience, going down in history as one the greatest films ever blah blah blah, I turn off. Unless I agree. Then I engage. Having seen the film at ling last, I can see the appeal and understand why its a brilliant piece of cinema.
Step by step. Firstly the story is timely and told in a way that isn't rushed, out of place or predictable. During World War Two, when the Nazis occupied Paris, refugees from all over Europe flocked to the south of France and then made their way to Lisbon to get to USA and freedom from the Nazis. But many refugees ended up stuck in Casablanca waiting to get a visa out. In Casablanca, many people who oporate in the black market and those who seek its help congregate at Rick's Café Américain owned by American expatriate Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). After a regular customer and black marketeer is arrested for murder of two German couriers soon after he entrusts Rick with transit papers, the Prefect of the Police, Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) informs hims that an influential Czech resistance leader has arrived in Casablanca. He tells Rick that this man, Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) cannot leave.
Lazlo and his wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) arrive at Rick's and after a chance meeting, it is obvious that Rick ans Ilsa know each other. Rick is hostile towards her especially when she requests a certain song to be played. Lazlo is questioned by the Nazis recently arrived in Casablanca and tell him he will not be permited to leave, even though they are in unoccupied French soil. While Lazlo makes connections to try and aquire visas, Ilsa tries to reconnect with Rick. In a flashback it is revealed that the two had met in Paris just before the occupation and had fallen in love but Ilsa had left Rick the morning they were to travel. Rick, still hurt, won't listen to Ilsa explain that she was married to Lazlo at the time but he was in a concentration camp.
Lazlo finds out Rick has the papers and persuades Ilsa, knowing her connection to him, to ask him for the papers. In this meeting, Ilsa admits that she is still in love with Rick and he in love with her. She wants to stay with Rick. Rick creates a plan, pretending to set up Lazlo to be captured by the police but in facts sets up Lazlo and Ilsa' escape with the paper to America. They share a heart breaking good bye and Rick watches her leaves once more.
That is the jist of the story, combing over a few other points but the bare bones of the story is needed to illustrate that its a compelling story that moves quite fast despite there being several slower scenes. The main charachers hook you in and for me, they all had a fair screen time. But its the love between Ilsa and Rick that is most focused on. For it was it was a war story told from the point of view of everyone, with the love story taking centre stage. The question of the transit papers is meant to feel like a red herring, starting with the announcement of the murders and the missing papers. But it all comes down to the fact that Rick loves Ilsa and wants to let her go. He knows that Victor needs her to carry on the good fight and for once, he takes a stand.
The next step in the success of this film is the timing of its release. The film had its world premiere in 1942 and released nationally in 1943 just a few weeks after the Allied invasion of North Africa. This set in motion, a perfectly timed support fueled film for the troops. The film was of its exact time, what was happening in the world was also being projected on screen with A list Hollywood stars. This all helped the film's success and the winning of the Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film boasts an international cast, with only a few Americans billed. For then, this was unusual, but of course films nowadays, we don't think of this. I think this diverse group also add to the likability of the film, the characters actually acting their nationality (at least most of them) or there abouts.
For a film that started as a play, 'Everybody Comes to Rick's', a play that I would like to see still, set entirely in the cafe/bar, the story has everything. A love story, Nazi damning, comradery, fantastic piano playing, an excellent cast, a war story, humanising refugees and some brilliant quotes. I think I laughed at almost every thing Claude Rains said, he delivered his lines in perfect tune, either sarcastic or meant in a humourous manner.
I'm still unsure if this is just a love story withe World War Two as the backdrop or if the film comments on war and those who wish to escape with a love story to pin point a linear storyline. Either way I understand the greatest of Casablanca. Here's looking at you kid.
To see where it all started and for an excellent insight to film, have a look at The Matinee and have a look HERE for more Blind Spot posts from other bloggers.