Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Problems of Three Little People

This may go without saying (has that ever stopped a blogger?), but Casablanca is a perfect movie.

I had occasion to notice this again, when my husband took me to see it at our art-house/university movie theater last night (see earlier post on my awesome husband). 

Most movies have a false moment.  Something that keeps it from perfection:  a less than stellar bit part performance, a song that doesn't quite fit the setting, a badly written line.  Even movies I love dearly will have a trip-up.  I love them in spite of their flaws.

If Casablanca has flaws, I can't find them.

There's Humphrey of course, amazing in nearly everything he ever made. But nowhere more than here.  He was able to convey so much with the smallest changes in his expression and voice.  No scenery chewing needed.  Sarcastic naivete: "Are my eyes really brown?" Deep wounds hidden beneath breezy banter: "The Germans wore gray. You wore blue."

Rick never says what he feels or feels what he says. Rick seems so straightforward and direct, yet his every line is full of layers and subtexts.  He is sincerity hiding behind a cynical veneer, his sincerity hidden even from himself. Victor Lazlo pegged it:  "You know how you sound, Mr. Blaine? Like a man who's trying to convince himself of something he doesn't believe in his heart."  Rick tells us over and over again that he doesn't stick his neck out for anyone.  He protests so much that we know it can't be true.

But my celebrity crush on a man who died before I was born aside (remind to tell you about my thing for shoulders . . . and real hats), it's not just Humphrey.

What amazed me this time, my first time seeing it on the big screen, was the small parts.  Every character seems perfectly cast and perfectly performed:  from Sam-the-piano-player to the unnamed pickpocket, from the future American immigrants (What watch?) to Peter Lorre's Ugarte, from Rick's ex-lover Yvonne to the Spanish singer and guitarist.  Corinna Mura, the singer and guitarist, had a moment that struck me this time:  holding her performer's smile in place, tightly, when the German officers walked by her.  The tightness of that smile spoke volumes.

Those small moments are what make the movie for me.  It's not Gone With the Wind, with huge sweeping vistas and huge sweeping emotions.  It's not impressive special effects or innovative camera techniques.  It's not shocking plot twists or red herrings.  No tricks. No games. Just an excellent story about the problems of three little people.

It's perfect.

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