Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Skuriels Countdown: #5 (tie)

Michael Curtiz, 1942
[14 votes]

“That Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca has become so widely canonized in spite of its straightforward, Hollywood-style execution is a testament to what a genuinely emotional experience the film offers. That’s not to say that Curtiz’s aesthetic doesn’t boast a unique flair or that the filmmaking as a whole is anything less than spot-on, but rather that it is quite unusual for a film so devoid of auteurist inventions to be regarded as paramount to cinema history. And yet, Casablanca is almost invariably listed among the ten best American movies ever made. The reason being: Certain constructs are best expressed with as little formalist interference as possible, and the timeless romance at the heart of this film is one of them.

“Casablanca’s most outwardly stylized passage--a ‘falling in love’ flashback montage that dwarfs all imitators--is no doubt profoundly accomplished, economically edited while still allowing the viewer to feel the emotions, but the bulk of the movie’s power rests in scenes where Curtiz’s presence cannot be felt. The director couldn’t have introduced anything more powerful than the raw romantic tension between Humphrey Bogart’s Rick and Ingrid Bergman’s IIlsa, which permeates even the moments in which they are apart. The lead performances account for much the movie’s success, legendary in the way that their feelings translate so clearly to the audience despite being highly internalized.

“Then there is the film’s dreamy ending, which remains transcendent in its realization of the fact that true love is not about everyone living happily ever after, but about self-sacrifice. It would be cute of me to suggest that modern romance filmmakers could learn a thing or two from the final moments of Casablanca, which represent the polar opposite of their usual bow-wrapped conclusions. But I’m sure that they have all seen the film and are aware of its virtues. The truth of the matter is: To pull off such a perfectly bittersweet finale, one must direct as effortlessly as Curtiz and find stars who can sell it like Bogie and Bergman. This is next to impossible, so why even try, especially when we’ll always have Casablanca to go back to for the real deal.” ~ Danny Baldwin

“Almost perverse for a film considered to be one of the great movie romances, Casablanca makes us feel the powerful bond between two people not through the strength of their embrace - the actual love affair between Rick and Ilsa is relegated to a short flashback – but through the uncomfortableness they feel when seeing each other for the first time in many years, the hurtful accusations hurled by the spurned party and the desperation that would give one cause to pull a gun on the other. We feel the intensity of their love because it is a heartbeat away from being utterly poisoned.

“Yet, in acknowledging how the greater stakes of life and death trump the pettiness of personal desire, that love is redeemed and honored. Rick may downplay the ardor between him and Ilsa in his final words to Victor, but he nevertheless fully admits what the two had been up to the night before. Victor's measured response answers the question posed by the Bulgarian refugee earlier in the film about whether a relationship can withstand the weight of an action taken by one to ensure the happiness of the other. With sacrifice and understanding, Casablanca's adult take on the love triangle frames a passionate affair as a compartmentalized part of the past without losing its potency, a vivid memory for those who treasure its existence and an act of necessity for those who need to forget.” ~ Don Marks

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