March 22, 2010

AFI #3 - Casablanca (1942)

This was my third time seeing Casablanca, and I honestly can say that this film just gets better and better with every viewing. This repeat viewing was different than that of Citizen Kane mostly because I wasn’t necessarily noticing the subtle nuances of the film but because I’ve grown to appreciate the film as a whole more as I’ve become older and better versed in cinema.

Make no qualms about it; Casablanca is a romantic’s film. Everything from the romanticized setting of Casablanca, Morocco to the doe-eyed Ingrid Bergman makes this film the most idyllic, classic black-and-white romance movie of all time. It almost makes me sick how much of a romantic film this is at times. Whereas with Citizen Kane and The Godfather I can say that everyone would appreciate and be entertained, I can’t say the same about Casablanca. It certainly appeals to a wide audience, but I’m not sure if it is as relevant today as when it came out—unlike the two films that precede it on the AFI top 100 list.

The reason I say this is two-fold, and the problem isn’t necessarily with the film itself. Both reasons have to do with the current generation of moviegoers. The most obvious reason in my opinion that this film hasn’t kept as well has to do the fact that it is in black and white. This is purely speculative, but I’d be willing to bet that this is part of the reason Casablanca hasn't withstood the test of time as well as the other top three movies. While in my opinion Casablanca is visually one of the most appealing films I’ve ever seen, those who have no educational background in film could be disinterested because of the lack of color. The second reason is that the film’s pace isn’t so action-packed or filled with lots of interesting conversations. It’s not like an Inglourious Basterds-type movie where you’re so fixated on the dialogue that you can’t take your eyes off of the screen (although certainly Casablanca has its moments, such as the last scene in the movie).
It may not be action-packed, the dialogue may not always pique the audience’s interest and it may be in black and white, but Casablanca is remarkable in its own right. Casablanca stuns me visually. The combination of the posh interior sets, costume design, lighting and use of soft lenses make this film a landmark in early cinema because of its visual appeal. To me, this is what defines Casablanca in cinema history. It’s visually probably the most refined, appealing film of its time. Whereas Citizen Kane took drastic steps to define itself as a film that innovated by combining different practical forms into one fluid picture, Casablanca takes a similar but different approach in telling a classic lovers’ story using idealistic forms to immerse the viewer in a world that is overwhelmingly romantic.

The acting in it is nothing short of fantastic. Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, each spectacular in their own right, together are the perfect on-screen couple.  Their chemistry is incredible and not for a moment throughout the entire film does the viewer ever question whether it’s “real” or not. Bogart was faced with a character who has to play two sides, both politically and emotionally and he seemingly does it with ease. Bergman is the classic Hollywood beauty, though her acting is nothing too impressive mostly because her character isn’t necessarily the most dynamic or given the most screen time. That being said, her beauty makes her the center of attention every time she steps into a scene and that’s exactly what director Michael Curtiz intends. There’s a reason why Bergman and Bogart’s characters are popularized as near perfect: it’s because they are.

I’ve grown to like Casablanca much more than I used to. Cinematically there’s really not much to complain about when it comes to this film. Still, I feel it is a little unjust for it to be #3 on the top 100 list. There are so many great films and Casablanca should be considered as one, but in terms of its relevance to modern cinema—a key criteria when I consider the best of the top films of all time—it falls a little short of my expectations. It certainly is one of, if not the most popular romance movie in history and provides plenty of memorable quotes. It’s romanticized setting is breathtaking, yet there’s just something about it that doesn’t sweep me off my feet (no pun intended).

Rating: 9.2/10

Relevant Links:
Casablanca - RottenTomatoes
Casablanca - IMDb
Casablanca - Wikipedia

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