|Casablanca: Laszlo leads "La Marseillaise."|
Is Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) in Casablanca supposed to be Jewish? We know that he’s Czech, and that he has spent time in a concentration camp before escaping to Morocco with his Norwegian wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). (Henreid was of Austrian heritage, born in Trieste.) Laszlo is coded as Jewish in the screenplay but is characterized in such a way that his Jewishness is effaced; it acts as a signifier for his resistance to Nazism and little more. That is to say that Laszlo’s Jewishness is implied but also ultimately irrelevant. I got thinking about this question upon re-watching Casablanca this week, because it’s a film in which the figuration of nationality and ethnicity epitomizes classical Hollywood at its most ideologically left-of-center: it recognizes and smiles upon what today would be called “diversity of representation,” so long as everyone, whatever their racial or ethnic stripes, can get behind the values of liberal democracy. Casablanca is a film both aware/respectful of cultural difference and invested in the idea that Western values can and should cut across cultural lines.
|Laszlo (note facial scar) with Rick (Humphrey Bogart).|
|"Everybody comes to Rick's": the bar as cosmopolitan hub.|