April 02, 2015

#7: Some Happy Endings, At Least

In this ten-part series I study the screenplay of ‘Casablanca’ by breaking it down to its several aspects. Click here and read from down upward for the entire series.

“Monsieur Rick, you are getting to be your best customer.”

Story Covered in Part 7: During the day, Renault’s men had ransacked Rick’s Café for the letters of transit but they could not find them. And Rick’s is back in business tonight, with usual customers. There are also people who are about to leave Casablanca, having managed to get exit visas. But then there are those like the Bulgarian couple. Renault has persuaded them to gamble at Rick’s and make money to buy the exit visas but Jan is losing. When Annina approaches Rick to ask if she could trust Renault, Rick gets to know the entire situation. Renault has offered Annina the visas in exchange of sexual favors and she is fighting her conscience because her husband, Jan, is unaware of it. Rick goes to the gambling room and makes Jan win sufficient money to get his visas from Renault, thus saving the grace of the young Annina. She is full of gratitude for him. Around this time, Laszlo and Ilsa have entered the Café.

Step Outline:
  • Pg 76: The second night at Rick’s has started. The pickpocket and other usual customers!
  • Pg 77: Renault’s brief chat with Rick about the letters of transit
  • Pg 78: A French and a German officer fight over Yvonne. Rick stops the fight.
  • Pg 80: Strasser shares his concern with Renault regarding Laszlo. Letting him stay in Casablanca can also be dangerous, he thinks.
  • Pg 81: Carl drinks with a middle-aged German couple who are about to leave Casablanca
  • Pg 82-88: Annina approaches Rick and he ends up helping her and her husband. Around this time Laszlo and Ilsa arrive at the Café.
Structure: At the end of sixty per cent of the film, we did feel that a lot has been covered. But then the writers have applied brakes on the plot here. The main plot has not moved an inch in these thirteen pages. Mood is building, and pace is slow, until Rick decides to bring one sub-plot to a happy resolution. The sequence of events might not be hurried, but the ordering of emotions is very well done. We really feel very happy for Jan and Annina as this part ends. And gear up for the last thirty per cent of the script.

The Character arc:
  • Rick: We admire him so much for going out of his way to help the Bulgarian couple. He indeed is a hero.
  • Captain Renault: He is more corrupt and twisted than we were expecting. Through the sad face of the pretty Annina, we get to see the opportunistic bastard Renault is. But he does not confront Rick over his successful attempt to help Annina. This is consistent with the soft corner he has for Rick. And thus, despite his ugly side, Renault does not come across as the villain.
  • Major Strasser: He is increasingly acquiring the tag of the villain. He is also clever and sharp. He is more ruthless than we had thought. And yes, he genuinely fears Laszlo’s impact on his followers and sympathizers. This detail shows that even the antagonist is facing strong conflicts. That’s Act II for us – confrontation, in every possible way.
Sub-plots: In this part, as it gets resolved, we get to know how important the sub-plot of Jan and Annina was. Remember, these characters were set-up from the very beginning. Otherwise their sudden appearance in this section would appear convenient. This is a brilliant example of what effective foreshadowing can achieve.

Tools Employed:
  • Control on the rhythm of the screenplay, as mentioned in the structure above.
  • Brilliant use of secondary characters: The use of the Bulgarian couple is tremendous and contributes directly to the main plot’s emotion. But then there is the use of other characters: French and German officers, Yvonne, the elderly German couple, Carl, and especially the pickpocket we had seen in the first scene. Since we have seen the pickpocket before, our effortless bumping into him seems natural and conveys a sense of being trapped in a small place. It also makes sure that the accidental bumping of our main characters with each other does not look staged or forced.
Conventions Broken:
  • Every scene should be vital to the plot or at least for character exploration: There are at least two-three short scenes in this film which are used for mood and rhythm at the cost of plot-progression and character exploration. And since they are brief moments, we do not mind them at all.
  • Show. Don’t tell: We never get to see the destructive search that Renault has conducted at the Café. We get to know about it through conversations. This definitely is not advised. But then not sure how a scene of the search could be inserted without affecting the well-knit structure of this portion of the film.
Themes: The theme of adultery has so beautifully been mirrored here through the sub-plot of Jan and Annina. Not only it shows that a woman may indulge in an extra-marital affair against her wish for the greater good of her lover/husband, it also makes Rick question his story when Annina asks him: “Oh, Monsieur, you are a man. If someone loved you very much, so that your happiness was the only thing that she wanted in the whole world, but she did a bad thing to make certain of it, could you forgive her?” Also, the way Rick helps them sets us up for a similar situation about to come. This kind-hearted guy will refuse to help another woman, because of his personal investment in her. This irony is not only beautiful, it is universal and timeless.

Standout scene: The overwhelming scene where Rick helps Annina and Jan managed to achieve several things, as mentioned above. Also, now we have had a more intimate emotional experience of what escaping from Casablanca can feel like. Hence the final act will be more fulfilling for us.

What is the audience expecting: The expectations regarding the main plot have not changed. But the gradual revelation of Rick’s character is making us expect more from him in the minutes to come. We get this feeling that something big is about to happen very soon.

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