Maybe it is easier to believe in Paris, that everything ends in Paris. And that ‘they‘ would never come up again, let alone years later in a desert. And of course (since it’s a film?) that’s just what happens, surrounded by people and formalities. She makes sure he bumps into ‘their’ song, maybe just to torture him. He cuts it short, but long after everyone is gone, he gets drunk and forces himself to listen to it.
(To me, it’s amazing that he does this.) Suddenly he’s arranging elaborate painful preparations; the alcohol, the music, pre-angst. He somehow knows— despite years and years of nothing to go on— that she would show up.
She shows up. (To me, it’s amazing that she does this.) He makes sure he looks just the way he wants her to see him; bitter angry and full of As Time Goes By on piano. She is trying to stay cold. He breaks her down with harsh words instead of discussing anything rational. She gets teary like her Paris goodbye rain-letter.
And to cap off their sad ex-lovers dance show, she leaves.
I don’t know how to explain it exactly, or if I even need to. But that was the scene that sold me. It’s a simple, petulant scene, yet two things were proven: they really were in love (and knew how to translate/pick at each other in a way no one else could, even after years), and they were bad for each other; that it could never work. It’s a dance that all people in relationships full of love and full of problems do, which is why I liked it so much.
To me, all the other Paris flashbacks and cheesy lines and flowery music did not add up to the resonance of that scene. And finally, I liked this line as a precursor to Rick’s breakdown, early on in the film.
In general, it’s still hard for me to believe lovers in any film. Most of the time they just don’t have enough screen-time to convince me the love is legit and still keep the plot going. Everyone’s relationships takes up hours and hours– years? –to build up and stay up to begin with. Even then, it’s most likely peppered with little imperfections no one would bother putting into a movie script. It’s little things like this that made me tolerate Casablanca. I saw it for the first time a few years ago and honestly thought that it’d just be full of flowers and cheese and I’d hate it.
Everything sounds tougher in German subtitles, by the way.