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Casablanca - Cultural Context

Some aspects of cultural context

War/Politics: The main backdrop to this story is that of war and politics. There are many war stories but Curtiz chooses the unusual setting of Casablanca – it’s a cultural and political melting pot that provides a richly textured cultural context in which the characters can interact. Much of this is explained in the opening scene (see section on Key Scenes below). Several cultures co-exist or are represented – the locals in Casablanca (the traders especially), the Americans, like Rick (America seen as the desirable culture to escape to); the Vichy French (those like Renault co-operating with the Germans), the resistance fighters (e.g. the man shot in the streets at the start and the Norwegian man who meets Laszlo in Rick’s); the Germans, not quite in full control here but very powerful; the Italian soldier ignored at the airport when the Nazis arrive; other Europeans (like Laszlo, Ilsa, the pickpocket, the “usual suspects”). We see all the usual intrigues of war – shooting in the street, escaped prisoners, people on the run, murder, bribery, fraternising with the enemy (Yvonne), narrow escapes, black market, secret meetings (Laszlo and the waiter from Rick’s go to one). There’s also the cultural context of Paris in the flashback – focus on the invasion/occupation. Laszlo’s political work is seen as important by all – even the German’s, who fear his influence. This is demonstrated in Rick’s with the battle of the songs. Some of the war context is conveyed by stock footage of refugees and the Germany army heading for Paris.

Power: Who has power in this cultural context? The Germans have military power and wield it. The French officials have some power (e.g. arresting people, like Ugarte, shutting Rick’s) but it seems dependent on German good will; Renault uses his power for personal gain. Laszlo has the power of conviction confidence and idealism, seen when he leads the singing of the...
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