General Vision and Viewpoint:
The serious and heavy opening music suggests that the events of the film are serious, that serious issues are at stake. In the opening narration freedom is seen as desirable, and the “Americas” seen as somewhere it can be found, a desirable destination for those who wish to escape. The footage of the fleeing refugees elicits our sympathy for them – the innocent victims of the war. After the French Resistance agent is shot the camera points upward respectfully at the words “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” at the entrance to a building, the Palais de Justice, suggesting that these are the values we should aspire to. There is a sense of hope in the people looking up at the plane, especially the young couple we see towards the end of this scene. ”Perhaps tomorrow we’ll be on that plane”.
The opening music has elements of a North African flavour – to go with the map of Africa prominent in the opening credits. The theme ends with the French National anthem, suggesting that a French/African (i.e. North African) setting or context is involved. The last notes suggest danger and threat. The narrator’s voice over provides useful information on the cultural context: “With the coming of the second world war many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully or desperately towards the freedom of the Americas. Lisbon became the great embarkation point. But not everybody could get to Lisbon directly, and so, a tortuous, roundabout refugee trail sprung up. Paris to Marseille, across the Mediterranean to Oran, then by train, or auto, or foot, across the rim of Africa, to Casablanca in French Morocco. Here the fortunate ones, through money or influence or luck, might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon, and from Lisbon to the New World. But others wait in Casablanca, and wait ---- and wait ---- and wait”. With this voice over we get a revolving globe, then a flat map to indicate where the context fits in global terms. We also get footage of refugees on the move, giving more texture to the words. As the map fades we get a shot of a minaret (tower beside a mosque), suggesting the Muslim context of North Africa. The busy shot of the teeming street full of traders further enhances our sense of the place – there are many Muslims in the picture, but the signs on shops are in French, again suggesting the colonial background. As the script puts it: “The facades of the Moorish buildings give way to a narrow twisting street crowded with the polyglot life of a native quarter. The intense desert sun holds the scene in a torpid tranquillity”. The second world war background is emphasised by the shot of a policeman reading an urgent newsflash – German couriers murdered, “suspicious characters” to be rounded up. These are Europeans or Westerners, one of whom is shot trying to escape. He had been carry French resistance leaflets, giving us a further insight into the war context. In the background we see a poster of Marshal Pétain, leader of the Vichy Government that collaborated with the Nazis. The confusion of the place, especially for foreigners is shown by the couple at the café – “We hear very little and we understand even less”. We hear about the “customary roundup of refugees” and there’s a hint of the exploitation inherent in this kind of context – beautiful girls included in the roundup, for Monsieur Renault, the Police Chief. The expected crime in such a context is also there – the European who pickpockets. Ironically he had previously spoken of the “scum” and “vultures” who have “gravitated” to Casablanca. At the end of the scene we are again reminded of the war context by the arrival of the German officer.
Not much of interest yet. There’s a strong suggestion that Renault is exploiting vulnerable women, while we see a romantic couple hoping to get out of Casablanca by plane – a genuine relationship contrasted with relationships based on exploitation and...