Casablanca (1942)

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Food: I met some friends in Williamsburg at a place called Ainslie Biergarten. We split the Burrata, Olive Oil & Sea Salt Bruschetta and I got a glass of the Rioja red wine. As an entree, I went for the simple Spaghetti Pomodoro with San Marzano Tomotoes, Basil, Olive Oil & Parmigiano Reggiano. It was delicious! The atmosphere was really cool, with a patio space in the back.

Film: “Casablanca” (1942) is a timeless film starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman that takes place during World War II in Casablanca, which was a crossroads for spies, traitors, Nazis and the French Resistance. Based on a screenplay that was adapted from a never produced stage play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison called “Everybody Comes to Rick’s.”  The film was made on a tight budget and released with small expectations, but ended up winning the Academy Awards for Outstanding Motion Picture, Best Director (Michael Curtiz), and Best Writing/Screenplay (Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein & Howard Koch) and has had a lasting influence to date.

The film starts with Rick Blaine (Bogart), a cynical and hard-drinking American who runs the nightclub, “Rick’s Café Américain” in Casablanca which serves German officials, refugees seeking entry to the United States, and people who seek to stop them. With wisecracks with witticism, the first portion of the film is comedic and amusing. Then, all of the sudden, “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” That is, Ilsa Lund (Bergman), a woman Rick loved years earlier. In Paris, under German occupation, they had planned to escape together when she left him waiting at the train station the day they were meant to leave.

A mutual friend of theirs, the bar’s piano player, Sam (Wilson), reunites with her when she asks him to play the song that she and Rick called their own, “As Time Goes By.” He hesitantly begins to play, when Rick flies into the bar enraged, yelling “I thought I told you never to play that song!” until he sees her. Queue dramatic music and emotional close up shots, and you have a moment of cinematic magic. This is a scene that intensifies with later viewings because at this point in the film, their shared history is unknown.

It becomes apparent that she is now with a new man, by the name Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), who is a hero of the French Resistance. They need letters of passage to escape to America in order to continue his work, fighting against the Germans. (At this time, papers were needed to give travelers immunity while traveling through German-occupied Europe and neutral Portugal – the “golden ticket” for all the refugees stuck in Casablanca). A German Major has come to Casablanca to see that Laszlo fails.

These letters of passage end up in the hands of Rick. This presents a love triangle with high stakes, a complex time and place, and all redeemable characters. It is difficult to find a solution that satisfies any person under the circumstances. The “happy” ending of seeing our two leads wind up together and pick up their romance, would feel wrong weighed against the nobility of her husband. The power of “Casablanca” is that is values heroism over love. Laszlo’s fight against Nazism is rightfully seen as more valuable than Rick’s long lost love.

Bergman did not know the ending herself while playing the whole movie, bolstering the sincerity of the confusion and heartache in her performance. Bogart is affecting and melancholic. With sweeping moments of comedy, a story grounded in gallantry and heart, the ageless black and white cinematography and exquisite dialogue, “Casablanca” is an eloquent masterpiece.

 

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