Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Casablanca and La Marseillaise

Today marks the 221st anniversary of the French National Anthem La Marseillaise. Written in 1792 by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, it is a stirring anthem easily recognizable by most.

One of the striking elements about La Marseillaise is the lyrics. It is most definitely a fight song in every sense. Just take a gander at the opening verse translated to English:

Arise children of the fatherland
The day of glory has arrived
Against us tyranny's
Bloody standard is raised
Listen to the sound in the fields
The howling of these fearsome soldiers
They are coming into our midst
To cut the throats of your sons and consorts

Well, that's certainly getting to the point! Kinda makes "the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air" seem a bit tame...

The anthem and its meaning are central to a famous scene in the 1942 classic movie Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart. In one of the most poignant scenes in cinematic history, a table of German officers, who have control of the city over the French, are singing Die Wacht am Rhein, (The watch on the Rhine) which is a patriotic German anthem.

Here it is in case you want to sing along in English:

And of course, here's La Marseillaise with English translation:

For those who haven't seen the film (What!?!?!), it is about Nazi occupied Casablanca which at the time was a French colony. Bogart's character, Rick Blaine is an American who fled Paris prior to the Nazi occupation looking to avoid the war which has obviously followed him to Casablanca. In Casablanca, Blaine opens a cafe where he runs a club with an illegal casino and has enough connections and influence to keep himself out of the politics of the day. For a while anyway...

In Rick's Cafe are several French expatriates* including the character Victor Lazlo played by the very underrated excellent actor Paul Henreid. 

Paul Henreid

As the Nazis are singing their anthem, Victor Lazlo goes over to Rick's house band and asks them to play La Marseillaise. The band leader, clearly not sure the the idea of starting up a counter anthem to sing over the jolly Nazis (who really are kinda half-heartedly singing away) is a good idea, looks over at Rick for his approval.

Rick, who has been trying to maintain neutrality, nods and gives the band leader the go ahead, and what results is one of the most powerful scenes ever filmed. Keep in mind that this film was shot at the beginning of World War II.


If that doesn't give you goosebumps, I don't know what will!

*It is notable that several of the characters in the scene were actually French refugees which adds to the emotion that you see in the scene. 

The film's opening monologue is epic too:
With the coming of the Second World War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully, or desperately, toward 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 sprang up – Paris to Marseilles… 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 the others wait in Casablanca… and wait… and wait… and wait.

Great links:

12 Reasons Why Casablanca is the Greatest Film of All Time

Of course, IMDB simply the best source ever for movie info

An excellent synopsis of the film from SparkNotes.com

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