While the scope of the narrative’s implications may be grand—romance and the Second World War and the tireless, scrappy fight against fascism—its pieces are small. Indeed, Rick is introduced before a chess board. His existence is a precarious match and he chooses his words and gestures carefully, knowing when to sacrifice a pawn in order to advance the game as a whole. His mixture of apathy, feigned or otherwise, and irreverence both disarm his opponents and protect himself. Rick talks a big talk, playing the Han Solo type, but his central drive remains true. His claims to only look out for himself show themselves to be paper thin time and again. He aids a Bulgarian couple seeking passage to America, maintains plausible deniability with his staff’s Underground actions and keeps them on the payroll despite financial setbacks, and above all, gives the letters to Ilsa and Victor. Maybe Ilsa and Rick have a more passionate love affair than she with Victor. But Rick makes the tough call to keep the movement alive.
Among other things, this film is a rolodex of cinema quotes’ greatest hits. And it’s small wonder why: the dialogue is so damn sharp. Crown Prince of this is Captain Renault, the policeman of dubious allegiance to the Third Reich’s strong-arming force. He claims to bend whichever way the winds blow, Vichy or otherwise, and yet he has his way of disrupting matters. In a sense, he is the political mirror image of Rick, playing up a certain image he broadcasts to the rest of the world, but with ulterior motives. Even when facing adversity, he spits zingers, decrying Rick’s threats to shoot him in the heart as not being terribly effective.
Casablanca frames its stakes and central human core through gorgeously lit close-ups. Ingrid Bergman emotes beautifully, but this is only augmented by the play of light and shadow. Her face has an impossible softness, but yet her eyes carry wounds that speak of the difficulties she has faced in these war-stricken years. Humphrey Bogart, by contrast, is shot more harshly, canyons carved in his face that mirror his disillusionment and bottled-up anguish. The final foggy departure levels the playing field, softening and evening the lighting even as matters are made more obscure and tense. Everything seems unified at last and there is hope for a path forward, even if the implications of the next steps are uncertain.
Someone says ‘papers’ or ‘refugee’.
Sam begins a song.
Someone says a famous line. And yes, that means EVERY “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
La Marseillaise features into the score or scene.
Someone pours champagne.
Rick tears up a piece of paper.
Rick mentions or pays a debt.
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