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‘Casablanca’ Retrospective: The Brattle Celebrates Love and Cinema

Dir. Michael Curtiz — 5 Stars

Humphrey Boghart's fedora from the famous "Casablanca."
Humphrey Boghart's fedora from the famous "Casablanca." By Leshui (Jade) Xiao
By Hannah E. Gadway, Crimson Staff Writer

The Brattle Theater celebrated Valentine’s Day with an annual 35 mm screening of the timeless 1942 film “Casablanca” on Feb. 14. Out of all the theaters in all the world, “Casablanca” showed up in our local one — and the film proved that it’s still the epitome of screenwriting and a perfect watch for a Valentine’s Day date night.

Before “Casablanca” began, the Brattle’s creative director, Ned Hinkle, took to the stage for a few words. He emphasized the beauty of “Casablanca” and the importance of showing the film in 35 mm.

“They say it’s a dying medium, but we love to try to keep it alive as long as we can,” said Hinkle.

After Hinkle spoke, a short Bugs Bunny cartoon warmed up the audience, causing a round of laughter. However, the theater quieted as a black-and-white globe filled the screen; Casablanca had begun.

According to the creative director’s quick poll of the crowd, this was about a third of the audience’s first time seeing the film. As the lights dimmed and the crackle of the film filled the theater, first-time viewers soon began to see the reason “Casablanca” is known to have the best screenplay of all time. The plot is saddening, thrilling, and hilarious all at once, yet still incredibly cohesive in tone. The story follows Rick Blaine, a gruff yet intriguing café owner, as he reconnects with an old flame and tries to protect her against the German presence in French Morocco. Every line of the film is electrifying, whether it’s the witty dialogue thrown across Rick’s café or the love speeches between Rick and Ilsa. The characters speak so much, but the dialogue never feels clunky. Instead, the audience hangs onto every joke and detail, ready to see Rick’s full background story or discover how Ilsa will escape Casablanca.

Despite the 80 years between today and the film’s release, the screenplay keeps the plot new and engaging. “Casablanca” remains relevant today because its characters always invite us to ask questions and learn more. Rick Blaine, played by the suave Humphrey Bogart, is the typical macho mystery man, but he is also sensitive and witty when he needs to be. Captain Renault, portrayed by Claude Rains, is a jokester who produces many laughs, but he also has multi-faceted desires that lead him to cooperate with the Germans. The only one-note character is the Nazi major, Heinrich Strasser, but he is just as evil as he needs to be to drive the plot forward. The writers of the film — Julius Epstein, Philip Epstein, and Howard Koch — deeply understood how to make characters who feel like actual people, with all of a human’s unpredictability.

While the writing is the star of the show, the cinematography is also delightful. The film plays with light and shadow in fascinating ways. As Rick sits in his café, searching for an explanation of why the love of his life, Ilsa (played by Ingrid Bergman), has returned to him, white searchlights from outside sweep the room in bright flashes. Rick’s mysterious character is also communicated through shadow — when he first speaks with Captain Renault, only his shadow against his office wall is shown. In contrast to the brightly lit Renault, the visual language shows us that Rick is hiding something about his past. This use of light allows the black-and-white cinematography to shine, even to audiences accustomed to full color.

“Casablanca” still stands as a perfectly written film. It is snappy, exciting, and just sentimental enough to bring your date to see it. The Brattle Theater’s Valentine’s Day showing of the film on 35 mm preserved its retro charm while introducing new viewers to the iconic story. If you need a date night movie, go and rewatch “Casablanca.” And if it’s your first time watching this wonderful film — well, it may just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

—Staff writer Hannah E. Gadway can be reached at hannah.gadway@thecrimson.com.

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FilmArtsMetro Arts