miércoles, agosto 16, 2023

Flying Back to Casablanca

Flying Emirates has its perks. One of my favorites is being able to watch the classics: Many fellow travellers gravitate towards Gone with the wind, but I tend to prefer Casablanca.  For starters, it’s not a story about spoiled beautiful southerners and their struggles to find a husband. This is the story of Rick Blaine, a salon-owner, a gunrunner and a roulette-fixer who finds himself faced with exacting choices at the edge of a world dominated by the third reich.

Rhett Butler has its memorable lines, but Rick’s drunken admonition: “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine” is really the kind of conjuration that all gentlemen may have used on certain days when the past comes back to haunt them in the form of a painfully beautiful woman. It’s hand down one of the coolest lines in the history of Cinema. Yet Rick has no proclivity for the lachrymose: Casablanca is not a cheap tale of impossible love, it is a story about what it means to be a man when the going gets tough. It is a story about staying true to oneself at virtually any cost. 

It brings us to a lawless Casablanca that is the last stop and gateway out of a world that has gone to hell. All its denizens are there in passing and most of them seem to be plotting an escape. The planet seems to be crumbling as we witness all this. Or not: The nazis seem to be finally losing the war. But for some, like Rick, there is no escape possible, the rumour goes that he is wanted for a dire crime somewhere in New York.

All the right images are there: A loyal friend who warns her about all the water under the bridge and refuses to play that song that reminds you of her. A quick-witted policeman who has everything for sale and never pays for his drinks. A resistance hero who escaped a concentration camp and now looks impeccable on a double-breasted jacket. A hauntingly beautiful woman who left you waiting one day by the train station, as the nazis marched into Paris. In Rick’s words: “A guy standing on a station platform in the rain with a comical look in his face because his insides have been kicked out”. ¨Not an easy day to forget. I remember every detail. The germans wore grey, you wore blue”.

If Godard was right about great movies and tragic endings, Casablanca is also great on that count: It closes with a half fatal finale comparable to those in good westerns, where cowboys ride into the sunset. Rick knows that he won’t be able to live with any other choice. And it is in that sense that Casablanca is a master tale about finding the courage to do the right thing at any cost and without flinching, a grand work (full of great music) about masculinity, about being vulnerable and strong at the same time. It’s been more than 80 years and we should all still be a little more like Rick. I certainly hope so.