Casablanca (1942)

Wow, Casablanca, the classic of classics and I finally got to see it, after all those times I came across it on TV and immediately switched to another channel, after all those times I heard other people say it was a unique jewel in the world’s filmography, after all those times I threw up when I heard words like “romance”, “passion” and “impossible love” to describe the plot of this 1942 film, directed by Michael Curtiz and starring the charismatic Humphrey Bogard as Rick Blaine and Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund. After watching it, I can say without fear of being wrong, that yes… this movie is really special, both for its story and its characters, but it is also interesting because of the space in which the events take place and how this space echoes with all the other elements of the story. I’m referring to the political and social context, the geographical point where the story takes place (from the city of Casablanca to Rick’s bar and everything in between), all elements masterfully orchestrated to produce a powerful story about how external circumstances tend to shape our decisions and how our emotions tend to prolong conflicts, up to the point where we decide to take charge of the situation and manage to change destiny.


But wait… what’s Casablanca about? Well it’s about this guy, Rick Blaine, who owns Rick’s bar, a place where a bunch of refugees (mostly) try to escape Europe in the middle of WWII. In Rick’s bar they find one of the only places to have a nice time in the midst of the chaos of war. The thing is that Rick starts the movie with a selfish attitude, he only thinks about saving himself and does not interfere in other people’s affairs, not even in favor of friends or acquaintances. Now, this attitude also serves him to maintain a close relationship with Captain Louis Renault, who is in charge of Casablanca and also makes him pass under the radar of Major Strasser and the troop of Nazis who have come to Casablanca in search of Victor Laszlo, an activist against Nazism and active voice of the European resistance against the Germans. It is here that Rick and Victor’s paths cross, though not because of the war, but because Victor Laszlo’s wife is Ilsa Lund, Rick’s old girlfriend who has jilted him in France on the day of the Nazi occupation, the day Rick begins his journey to Casablanca. At the beginning of the film, Rick gets hold of some stolen passports that will allow anyone to use them to escape from Casablanca. Victor and Ilsa’s goal is to escape Casablanca before they are killed by the Nazis, do you see where the whole thing is going?

Before we go any further, let’s talk a little about the character of Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart. As I said earlier, Rick begins the story with a selfish stance on the whole war thing and other people’s problems. Even when an acquaintance is captured by the Nazis, Rick merely says that he doesn’t stick his neck out for nobody. Rick also doesn’t usually drink with other people and doesn’t accept anyone’s invitation if he can help it. But the situation changes radically when Ilsa and Laszlo arrive in Casablanca. From this moment on, Rick cannot help but show a different side of his personality, one that is more empathetic, but also more passionate, to the surprise of his acquaintances and to Ilsa’s pain, since Rick does not delay in letting her know the damage she has caused him by abandoning him in Paris.
Now, what happened in Paris? The thing is that Ilsa was dating Rick when the Nazis came to destroy everything. Rick had a plan to escape with Ilsa and his eternal companion, the pianist Sam Wilson. But everything goes to hell when Ilsa doesn’t show up at the train station, instead she sends a letter tersely explaining the situation (basically that they won’t see each other again). It is from this moment that Rick decides to send everyone to hell and focus on living a meaningless life, sheltered in his bar from the calamities of the world.


But the arrival of Ilsa and Victor Laszlo brings other unforeseen consequences in Rick’s life. One of them is found in perhaps the most dramatic scene of the film. I refer to the scene where the Nazis have taken over the bar and are singing the German anthem, but are interrupted by Laszlo and the brass band, when Rick instructs them to follow Laszlo’s order to play the Marseillaise. It is here that the change begins in Rick, who no longer appears as an outsider to the political conflict, but takes matters into his own hands. After the Nazis decide to close the bar and ban the festivities, Rick learns the truth about Ilsa’s disappearance. It turns out that she was already married to Victor before she met Rick, but when Victor leaves to face the war and after a long time in which Ilsa has no news about his whereabouts, she makes the decision to continue her life with Rick, just then, she receives news about Victor, who is alive.

Is destiny nothing but a cruel machine of anticipated tears?


Well, I prefer not to tell you the end of the story so as not to ruin the experience, although being honest, I think that when you see the ending you will realize that you have seen it before in countless parodies and homages, because that final scene and its dialogues are already part of the DNA of American cinema. That’s Casablanca, a movie about a guy who doesn’t want to get involved in war because of heartache, living in a neutral place (not being a villain or anyone’s ally) until someone else comes along to remind him that there are things in life worth fighting for and that sometimes being neutral can do more harm than trying to take a more concrete stand.

Hannah and her sisters (1986)

This is the review of Hannah and her sisters, the only Woody Allen movie I have seen complete, well that doesn’t mean the others are bad. Hannah and her sisters caught my attention when I read the synopsis on imdb, where it more or less says that the movie is about Hannah and her sisters and how they all keep changing partners until they find the perfect match for each other. That’s what it says in the synopsis, but the film actually portrays a very human phenomenon and I feel very difficult to portray, which is the loss of the dominant position within the family (which happens to Hannah towards the end) and how the rest of the people adapt to this new context following the logic of their own idiosyncrasies. To show this interesting change in the family dynamics, the director/screenwriter takes a lot of chapters to advance the plot in a very particular way (I guess for those who love Woody Allen’s films it shouldn’t be that particular, but for an initiated it is!) jumping between characters over and over again, but let’s be honest, not always with a cohesive logical structure, although honestly, what does it matter! In some parts it seems that the movie doesn’t have a defined theme, especially the parts that correspond to the character Woody Allen plays (the hypochondriac) compared to the rest of the movie, don’t seem to have a thematic relation until almost the end of the story. None of this detracts from the entertainment and interest of the story, which concludes with this change in the hierarchical structure of the family.

But… what is the movie about? Well, it’s mostly about Hannah’s sisters, who start the story without having reached the fullness of their lives (without having formed a stable family), unlike Hannah, who welcomes them happily at home with her husband and daughters. At this point in the film, Hannah has the upper hand with her sisters and stands as the benevolent and concerned queen, ready to help but also to remind them of all the problems that keep the family in the way it is currently configured. After the opening scene, where they come together to celebrate Thanksgiving, we spend part of the film watching Hannah’s husband get involved in a love affair with Lee (the sister played by Barbara Hershey), who is living with an older painter (who was also her teacher). At the same time, Holly (the sister played by Dianne Wiest) struggles to find work as a theater actress with her friend April, who ends up beating her in the castings… and in love too! So it goes with poor Holly, who in one revealing scene realizes that, although she has some acting chops, she can’t compete with her friend’s talent and panache.

So let’s say that the film is about Hannah having a settled life (or so she thinks), while her sisters struggle to build a meaningful life following their desires (obvious because the film is also based on the story of an extended family with enough resources). While Holly takes a path that leads her to abandon her dreams of becoming an actress, to later make the decision to try her hand as a writer, Lee leaves the painter to maintain a clandestine relationship with Hannah’s husband. While this happens, we are also involved in the story of Mickey (Woody Allen), who suffers from hypochondria and even fantasizes about being diagnosed with terminal cancer, a situation that leads him to lose the meaning of life and seek solace in different religions. It is worth mentioning that Mickey is Hannah’s first husband and that their relationship was ruined after Mickey discovers that he is infertile. So, while Mickey, who is a television writer, debates with the gods about the fate of life, Holly and Lee wander again and again in the search for emotional stability.

And how does the story end? Well, in the end everyone is happy except Hannah and her husband Elliot, who pay for the success of Hannah’s sisters via worsening their own relational situation. Partly because the first script Holly writes relates to Hannah’s life, with things about her that are personal and that she resents being known (although we could also interpret that she is really upset that her sister is achieving success and this makes her uncomfortable). The other problem that the couple faces in the end is Elliot’s infidelity with Lee, something that is never explicitly talked about in the film, but that constantly appears in the sense of guilt that surrounds both characters, although Lee decides to put an end to the affair and return to study at the university, where she falls in love again with a professor (some people don’t change). But hey, in the end it feels like the movie is about Holly and Mickey, at least they manage to make some change and be happy together (not counting that catastrophic first date). I have the impression that Hannah appears more as the pillar that unifies the stories than as a leading character, so sometimes I think if the movie shouldn’t have been called “Holly and her sisters”, but well, that’s up to the creators I guess. As far as movies about love relationships go, I’d say this film is definitely one of the best I’ve seen, especially because of the clarity in the development of the characters and the conversations between them, the situations they have to face! Things that seem so mundane at a quick glance but are so important in each person’s life story that seeing them portrayed on screen is very interesting. I’m referring to moments like the declaration of an infidelity, a date that goes wrong, the search for a sperm donor or others that we encounter throughout the hour and forty-six minutes that the film lasts.

The good:

  • The characters and the situations they face.
  • Mickey’s religious journey.
  • The end of the story.

The bad:

  • On a few occasions I feel that the device of the character having a monologue in the middle of an action doesn’t come across well constructed (not on all occasions but definitely on some).