THE ART OF THE SHOT in the closing scene from CASABLANCA


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The great freedom fighter Victor Laszlo has reached Nazi-occupied Casablanca in December, 1941, with his beautiful wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman).  Their only way out is to use letters of transit from members of the free underground movement.  When the couple meet Rick (Humphrey Bogart), owner of Rick’s Café Americain in Casablanca, Ilsa and Rick are shocked.  They both know each other.  In fact, they were in love in the summer of 1940 in Paris (before the Germans invaded).  At that time Ilsa thought her husband was dead.  Ilsa came to Rick’s two nights ago to get the two letters of transit from him.  (Why he has them is a long story.)  She threatened to kill him if he didn’t turn them over; but then relented, and the two shared a passionate night.  But the next day Rick decided that he should help Victor and Ilsa escape.  He has forced Capt. Renault (Claude Rains) to take them to the airport where he can put Victor and Ilsa on the plane.


1.      After Renault and Victor leave momentarily, the camera tracks in dramatically for a MCU of Rick and Ilsa, and note the camera is from the side—neither person’s point of view.  Rick begins to lay the groundwork for his plan to send Ilsa off with Victor.  “You’re getting on that plane.” 


2.      The same camera set-up is reestablished after a cut-away to Renault—again to emphasize the dramatic conversation as the camera tracks back in from LS to MCU of the two, again from the side—but at the last minute shifts to Rick’s point of view.  Then the point of view shifts through a series of reverse angle shots—from Rick to Ilsa, then Rick, then Ilsa, then Rick, then Ilsa.  Each time point of view shifts notice that either the speaker’s face is featured (to emphasize dialogue, as in Rick’s case) or the reactor’s face is featured (to emphasize understanding, as in Ilsa’s case).  


3.      Finally the point of view shot that had shown both characters in the frame changes to an interpretive point of view shot of Ilsa, in CU, the aura of light softening her face and the tears growing in her eyes.  We hear the voice-over of Rick’s continuing dialogue, almost as if she is hearing this in her dreams--“I’m not good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”  In this same close-up, Ilsa drops her chin, as if feeling defeated by fate—and this staging position is altered when we see Rick’s fingers lift her chin.  “Now, now.” 


4.      Then a cut to Ilsa’s point of view (so that the women in the audience can identity with her situation).  “Here’s looking at you kid,” he states, a motif that has run throughout the film.  Then the shot returns to that same close-up from nr. 6—she shows a face of acceptance and understanding.  Then cuts back to her point of view so that we can soak in the face of the man she truly loves.


5.      The emotion is temporarily halted with a quick cut-away to Major Strasser, the Nazi commander in charge of Casablanca, who is racing to the airport (tipped off by Capt. Renault).   Then we return to the airport, where a private drama between Rick and Victor begins.  Note how the first section was Rick and Ilsa alone; now it’s time for Rick and Victor to have a heart-to-heart talk.  The first shot shows all three in the frame together—but note how the staging positions establish the relationships—Victor and Rick are equals, facing each other.  Ilsa is turned away from the scene.  She is crying, trying to hold herself together.


6.      After a quick reaction shot of Capt. Renault, we re-establish with a point of view shot (from Rick’s point of view).  Again, point of view here suggests Rick is in charge.  Reverse angle is used to again emphasize the speaker’s explanations.  In that first case (from Victor’s point of view), there is a quick cut-away to Rick’s point of view of Ilsa (they are together in the frame) as she confirms his “story.”  Then the next shot returns to Rick’s point of view, and then the reverse angle to focus on Rick’s words.  Again, the return to Rick’s point of view is to feature the face of that person (Victor) who is “accepting” the explanation Rick made.  As before, Rick controls the point of view (up to this point).


7.      The two-shot of Rick and Victor cuts away to show a three-shot—Ilsa on the right, still turned away from the main action (staging position).   Then a return to the two men alone in the frame—from Rick’s point of view, as Victor says, “Welcome back to the fight.  This time I know our side will win.” 


8.      Then a quick cut-away to the engines of the plane starting up.  Then a cut back to the three-shot of the principal characters (MS).  All turn toward the plane, and then we see their point of view—the engines roaring to life.  Then come an amazing series of close-ups of the three principals.  Because we have close-ups, we can pay attention to the EYES of the characters as they respond to the action. 


·         Rick looks toward the plane, and then toward Ilsa

·         Ilsa looks toward Rick

·         Rick keeps looking at Ilsa, then turns his head and looks toward Victor

·         Ilsa turns her head and looks toward Victor

·         Victor, looking at Ilsa, says, “Are you ready, Ilsa?”

·         Ilsa turns her head and looks at Rick, then turns her head back and looks at Victor. “Yes, I’m ready.”


What’s happening here?  All of these movements are part of the symbolic action of Rick “giving up” or “returning” Ilsa to Victor, and at the same time, of Ilsa “agreeing to ” or “accepting” the terms of this decision. 


9.      Cut to a wide shot (MS) of all three—Ilsa steps forward, and the camera tracks in and to the left in order to set up important character proxemics—Ilsa stands at Victor’s side for the first time.  Rick is alone as he stands in front of them.  But note how this is from Rick’s point of view—we are identifying with him at this moment.  “Good-bye, Rick,” Ilsa says.  Cut to a close-up of Ilsa, her face perfectly lit with softening light, as (one-to-one to her true love) she says, “God bless you.”


10.  Cut to a high angle shot of Rick from Victor’s point of view.  We are looking down on Rick for the first time.  He has LOST her.  He has YIELDED CONTROL to Victor.  “You’d better hurry.  You’ll miss that plane.”  We are seeing Rick from Victor’s point of view because now Victor and Ilsa are the couple.  Rick will have to begin his life over again.


11.  But we don’t lose Rick’s central place in the scene, because the cut is to the same point of view shot we had in nr. 14.  Why?  Victor and Ilsa turn around and walk toward the plane.  Their staging position is away from the camera—they are leaving Rick’s life.  This is all from Rick’s point of view.  This is the moment of loss for him.  His one true love is walking away.  They walk into LS range to emphasize now how they are disappearing from Rick’s life.  All of this is to provoke our empathy for Rick’s noble sacrifice.


12.  Reverse angle cut to show Victor and Ilsa, now equals, partners, a couple, walking toward the camera.  They look at each, and we can see Ilsa is keeping up a brave front.  But as they approach the camera, the camera moves slightly to the left and cuts off Victor—we focus on Ilsa’s tearful face—she is walking away from the man she loves.  Again, the basis of the entire scene is the PRIVATE dynamics between only Rick and Ilsa.  And that’s why we cut to Rick in a close-up, alone in the frame for the first time in this scene. 


13.   Then a cut-away to Capt. Renault and the business of a final resolution—Major Strasser arrives, Rick shoots him when he tries to call for help, and when the police arrive, Renault, after a moment’s hesitation (Will he turn in Rick?) orders the men to “Round up the usual suspects”—one of the great lines in all of cinema.  Renault and Rick are alone at the end.  They watch the plane leave, first from their point of view, and then with the reverse angle (their reaction shot), we see the great loss reflected in the eyes of Rick as he looks skyward.   Then reverse angle to their point of view, and the plane disappears into the fog.


14.  Renault and Rick walk away, side by side, to the right, as they engage in some playful banter.  Then they walk past the camera and keep walking, as the camera turns into a crane shot (raising up) to look down (high angle) at the two men walking away from the action (staging position) and we hear Rick say, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”  And the two men walk continue to walk away into the distance as the music comes up.


Film resource written by Robert Yahnke
Copyright, Robert E. Yahnke,  © 2009
Professor, Univ. of Minnesota
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