Love is a Battlefield – Happy Valentine’s Day.

A planet with a circumference of 25,000 miles and a landed area of 510 million sq km divided over 7 continents.Yet cinema exhorts us to believe that two lovers separated a year ago in one continent, with no GPS, FB, cell-phone or Google, will cross paths at a salon just about 5000 sq ft in another continent; like a hot date fixed by God relaxing in his geosynchronous orbit.

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Then they go on to rediscover the doused flame of mutual adoration with the world falling apart around them. No guilt, no comebacks; just a night of torrid love-making followed by undisputed sacrifice. And we believe. Go figure…

Love is a battlefield.

Some films permeate reality and become mediations on life. It only happens when viewers extrapolate their selves onto the screen characters and engage with them through shared experiences, usually of individual loss.

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One is Casablanca (1942), the ageless love story of loyalty and betrayal, sacrifice and redemption which, personally, holds its position unchallenged seventy years on. Romantic love in black and white has never been surpassed, since or before. Based on the ancient Greek mythological plot of Orpheus and Eurydice lends it the pain of longing to toil for the ideal of love without acknowledging the futility of inevitable failure.

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On learning of her resistance leader husband Victor’s killing by the Nazis, Ilsa (Bergman) has a brief but torrid affair with Rick (Bogart) in Paris just before the Germans occupy the city. Supposedly comfort sex, but guess what, they fall in love.

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With their escape to Africa all planned she leaves Rick stranded at the station, with a letter explaining nothing, to tend to Victor (Henreid), who she discovers is still alive, badly wounded and needs her care.

Love is a battlefield.

Cut to one year later; framed by chiaroscuro lighting and tobacco smoke, in a voice laced with bourbon and self loathing, dead eyes staring in the past…

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…Rick pre-empts the question and answers for the audience “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine”. Microcosmically, a hero questions his alignment with an intrinsic universe.

Separated by time and space while besieged by World War 2, there is no bigger coincidence in classical cinema than the two of them meeting again in Rick’s Cafe Americain in Morocco.

Love is a battlefield.

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Seemingly destiny is not without a sense of irony, for now, the dour Rick has in his possession two letters of transit which Ilsa wants for their safe passage to Lisbon or the Nazis might kill Victor, now an indispensable figurehead of the underground resistance movement. And his life is too precious to barter.

Can any film full of outmoded clichés and banal sentimentality transcend critical prejudice and be artistically legitimate 70 years on?

Suddenly, emblematic of the fatal flaw of indecision, the narrative introduces a quandary which elevates Casablanca into the realm of the unparalleled; can a woman feel romantic love for two men equally but for different reasons?

Love is a battlefield.

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Being written while the shoot was on, Casablanca was a film without an end. Bergman, a thorough professional, kept looking to Michael Curtiz, the director, to pitch her character and repeatedly asked, “Whom does Ilsa love more?”

“Keep playing it both ways”, he reiterated like he had throughout the filming.

 

It was a fortunate accident which created more than it destroyed and inadvertently raised a few pertinent ethical issues of honor and righteousness.

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Is personal sacrifice of true love for the larger good of humankind the highest sacrifice ever known?

In desperate times, are some people truly capable of surmounting selfish desires at the cost of individual happiness?

Can a person pulverize one’s own future in order to secure the hereafter for many others like Rick, who could be you?

For a modern world enamored by material possession, these complex questions may seem pedestrian and antiquated but they perpetuate the sanctity of what makes us noble as human beings; selfless, unconditional love.

Love is a battlefield.

On Valentine’s Day 2013, we know how the construct of love has altered over the years and it seems primitive to construe that once it was on the terms as men wanted it to be with women being auxiliary to the decision.

In Casablanca too, the decisions are made by the men but the woman is the central figure.

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Without her the men may prevail but there is no goal. She is the terminal where they long to dwell. And even though Rick and Ilsa don’t attain what they deeply desire, they choose to live with the faith of a decision made for the larger good of mankind. In a fatalistic ideal they belong together by being separated.

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Why: because as Rick aptly says, “the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”.

So, “here’s looking at you kid” and Happy Valentine’s Day to all the readers of filmkailm.com with the prayer to not let go if you find a humdinger of a partner.

Unless World War III comes knocking.

Love is and will always be a battlefield.

Note:

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I am reminded of two songs by Pat Benator which, for me, encapsulate the emotional content of the film from different persuasions. If you choose to listen to these songs, put on a headphone, shut your eyes and concentrate on the lyrics.

Love is a battlefield.

We Belong.

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