Before watching this film I had a quick discussion about genre. Genre is an idea I keep hovering around as I watch these films. For some reason, I like to think of myself as being above genre, like I’m so open-minded that no sort of taste informs what I like or don’t like. This is a lie, of course. Genre, in film or music or novel, is present regardless of how we see it, and it always informs how we will read or respond to something. Exactly what genre is Casablanca, and does this affect how we read it?
I had lamented earlier that there was a lack of noir in the Best Picture selection, and I thought that The Life of Emile Zola was as close to noir as we were going to get (there are some great shadows and noir-esque interactions in that film). I couldn’t have missed the mark more; Casablanca is the Academy’s nod towards the shadowy, moody, cigarette-smoking aesthetic of the 40’s noir.
We’re not watching Casablanca for long before we start to notice long and deliberate shadows, an expression perhaps of the shady dealings and murders which are going on in the story. When characters interact they do so with a desperate fire in their eyes and the air of having everything to lose. Through the use of the noir aesthetic we are transported to a world where we are always on the look out for a double-cross or a twist in fate, much like the characters themselves.
Yet Casablanca is equally a war film. It’s not so much about battles and military manouvres (although the Nazi occupation of France is awfully humbling), but about what happens to people during war. And it is here that Casablanca retains it’s status as a classic after all these years, in that despite it’s heavily drawn generical influences it remains a story about human beings and their wants and needs in a time desperation.
If mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery, Casablanca has been well and truly given its dues across the years. The film is peppered with catch-phrases and what have since become cliches, and yet it still manages to transcend all of this and retain its power and conviction. Intricate and detailed, it is easily one of the most memorable films ever, and at just over an hour and a half it is a nice, easy and fruitful watch.