This essay is one of several contributed by filmmakers and actors as part of Variety’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time package.
Why cite “Casablanca” as one of the best 100 films? My reason is very simple. It has so many of the elements I tend to find myself storytelling with: creatures of the underworld, a tragic love at the center and a sacrifice. It manages to be this grand romance, but it’s truly political at the same time. If you look at what’s going on right now in Ukraine, there’s a lot of worlds like Casablanca that people are escaping into in the same way that the characters do in that film. It has a new relevance.
I grew up in a small country town. We only had one television station. We got a lot of old movies, but that period of filmmaking wasn’t revered in the same way it is now. Growing up in the ’70s and early ’80s, most of the kids my age were more interested in the French New Wave or psychological realism. There wasn’t a lot of passion for melodrama. Even “Citizen Kane” wasn’t a cool thing to be into. I had a passion for cinematic languages. I just remember being swept up in the world of “Casablanca,” but also the cinematic purity of it.
Forget romance, I love stories that are set in times of conflict. And I love Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick. On the surface, he doesn’t appear to care about anyone or anything. But deep down, he has a true moral universe. I also have a penchant for escaping into exotic places where you meet the most unlikely people in the most unlikely way.
I have seen “Casablanca” probably a dozen times. When I was thinking, why do I love it? I suddenly had this compulsion to watch it again. Great films are made to watch more than once. I don’t ever remember seeing “Casablanca” and being disappointed. I’ve liked it more, the more I’ve watched it. That is the mark of a classic film.
Baz Luhrmann is the director of “Elvis” and “Moulin Rouge!”