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Mise En Scene In Casablanca Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 1215 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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To develop a successful film, it is important in the filmmaking process to combine several techniques, such as using the right photography techniques, the right movement of camera, and the right framing of scenes and stages. In this paper, I will focus on particular aspects regarding the Mise en scene in “Casablanca” film. (Giannetti, 2010)

Starting from the opening scenes, we see short shots of the police arresting some suspicious people on the streets. One of these people was a man who tries to run from the police. Then, the scene continues to show us how the police officer pulls some papers from the man they shot and gives them to the other officer who opens the papers, which happened to be a propaganda material. If you observe carefully, you will see how the shot was zoomed in, for a few seconds, at the officer holding the papers in a very awkward and poor camera angle. In fact, the officer had a poor vision of the papers. Apparently, what counts the most in classical films is what the audience sees, so filmmakers tend to stage the visual materials only for audience. It is pretty obvious (in the second picture) how the papers are staged perfectly, so that only the audience can see them.

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Moving on to the Paris flashback scenes, where in the first shot, the camera moved from Rick’s face to his hand (right to left movement). In the second shot, the shot shows a camera movement from left to right following Sam to the right edge of the frame. Now, in the center of the shot, we can see an open space between Sam and Rick, and a framed door in the background. It is clearly obvious how the visual staging was preparing the audience for an upcoming event in this area, which is the entree of Ilsa to the room. But wait a minute…! What about the shot before nearly half a second of Ilsa’s entrée? Actually, there was a bottle in the center of the shot, but Rick picks it up to prepare a drink, thereby giving the audience a clear view of the entrance where Ilsa will enter.

Usually, black and white films try to achieve the dominant contrast by the positioning a combination of lights and darks (Giannetti, 2010). For example, the director in Casablanca wanted to frame Ilsa’s entrance by the doorway, so he darkened the shot before the entrance and then he places a strong light on her when she enters to grab the audience’s attention.

Casablanca presents one of the most wonderful love stories, and being produced in black and white added much value to it. Using the soft focus lens, that eliminates harsh lines and adds more diffuse look to the scenes, help the viewer feel that the shot is magical and filled with romance and emotions. For instant, in the scene where Ilsa and Rick were in the airport, the shot was very close to Ilsa’s and Rick’s face. Add to that, the two actors were very close to each other; the space between them was eliminated because of the relationship or the connection that they have over the years. The camera here captured Ilsa’s face in a very deep shot while she was tearing for leaving Rick. You can see the softness in this scene very clearly, and you can see how it captures your attention and your senses easily.

Furthermore, the composition of space in a film is essential because it conveys as much narrative power as the characters’ dialogue. Mise en scene demonstrates things about the character and the events that can go beyond any words; it illustrates a much larger story. As Giannetti (2010) stated in his book “Understanding Movies”: “Mise en scene is a complex analytical term, encompassing four distinct formal elements: (1) the staging of the action, (2) the physical setting and décor, (3) the manner…these materials are framed, (4) the manner in which they are photographed”. To illustrate the space in Casablanca film, we should consider the two shots below. The characters here are seated at a table.

We can see how the ceiling efficiently frames Richard Ryen and Conrad Veidt, at the same time as blocking off any empty space above the characters (see the right picture). I would argue that here the photographer used the aperture framings to improve the compositional balance. I think the photographer noticed an empty space above the characters, so he considered it as a compositional problem that must be handled. Let’s assume that the aspect ratio here is approximately 1.37:1, and there are four characters in this shot. Therefore, we are left with two choices of visual playing field. The first one is the space below the character’s waist, and the second one is the space above the character’s head. In this Film, most of the composition was below the waists; as a result, an empty space above the characters’ heads occurs. However, as I stated above, Casablanca’s photographer has established a new way to deal with the space above, and he tried to balance both fields. Aperture framings have many other functions beyond the issue of composition; for example, the curvy shaped framings are also used without having a space above the character.

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In Casablanca, we can think of the aperture framings as an images or metaphors. For instant, In Rick’s Café American, many characters are positioned inside frames, but it’s not clear which characters are framed; therefore, the framing here works as metaphors for all the characters in the café. If you focused enough on Rick’s Café decor, you can clearly see the soft lines of walls, and the arched ceiling, which gives you the feeling that this place is trapping the characters in a certain mood. The aperture framings in Ricks Café give you the impression that this Café is a secured haven, which is something unusual in Casablanca as a whole. I believe that the aperture framings can be used as tool to grab audience’s attention to a certain shot or scene. (Giannetti, 2010)

To conclude, Casablanca is one of the greatest movies of all time. It won three Academy Awards, and the best pictures award. The mise en scene techniques helped in establishing this great film. Although it was produced in 1942, most of the filmmaking techniques were covered perfectly. Also, using lenses was a good touch on the scenes especially in this romantic film, where you have to feel the love in the air. Every single detail in a filmmaking is important because the quality of lighting, for example, affect the viewer’s attention on certain elements or scenes. The illustration of space affects the viewer’s understanding of a film. The size, the depth, and the décor of an object can represent the relationships between figures, and the character’s mood or emotion. The mise en scene is used by directors to give an idea about a character or a situation without even using words. For example, directors use a disorganized apartment to imply that this person has disorganized life and personality. As you can conclude from my paper, everything is connected with the mise en scene, and without it, the film will be poorly produced. (Giannetti, 2010)


Giannetti, L. (2010). Understanding movies. New Jersy: Prentice hall.


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