Student Q&A: “La Marseillaise” in The Grand Illusion and Casablanca

Q: What do the two anthem scenes in Casablanca and The Grand Illusion show us about the people singing them?

A: In The Grand Illusion, the singing of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” is a song of pride and victory. The soldiers watching the show spontaneously start singing with pride after news of a significant French victory in battle. The soldiers, while in prison, are free to angrily sing a song insulting their captors. In contrast, the singing of “La Marsellaise” is instigated by Laszlo, the only Frenchman in Casablanca who fought the Germans. The rest of the Frenchmen in the café sit idly while the Germans sing boastful songs, and the French Vichy officer Captain Renault shoots Laszlo and Rick a questioning glance, challenging them to do something. When Laszlo asks the band to start playing, they are uncertain and require Rick’s permission. It shows that while the people in the café are in ‘Free France,’ they are more imprisoned than the POWs in The Grand Illusion.

Steve Sherman

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~ by Joseph E. Byrne on February 19, 2009.

6 Responses to “Student Q&A: “La Marseillaise” in The Grand Illusion and Casablanca”

  1. Although that could be true, the french soldiers in the POW had something to celebrate about while the french people in the bar just had their country invaded. However, it is very interesting to bring that up though and show the juxtaposition of the people singing the national anthem. I think it can also be seen that nationalism did not play as a large part in igniting the war in World War 2.

  2. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Both were singing for the same cause. In Grand Illusion, the characters are actually POWs, while in Casablanca the characters are technically in unoccupied France but are still prisoners in essence. The French national anthem in both movies is used as a show of strength and rebellion; the circumstances in each case are just different.

  3. As has (or will) come up in discussion, I think the two versions of the song are quite different—as different as the two films the song is featured in. In Grand Illusion, the song signifies solidarity between all the prisoners, and is an important plot point (Marechal is thrown in jail as a result). The object, as I read it, is to show the similarities between people and the role of art in life. The song in Casablanca, however, is quite different. It is meant to evoke an emotional, patriotic, response in the audience, to show the differences between the Germans and the French, and to get the viewer to take a side. The scene in Grand Illusion does not do this: it’s meant to show us something about the human condition, not how virtuous the free French are compared to the evil Nazis, or to get us to support the war effort.

  4. I agree that “La Marseillaise”‘s main purpose in both movies is to invoke a sense of rebellion and revolution against the Germans. What causes me to say this is that in both movies, the French national anthem is sung not only by French, but by all anti-Nazi characters in the scene. In Grand Illusion, apart from the Frenchmen, such as Marescialle (who thanks to editing is seen as looking down at the Nazis and using the Anthem as a mode to intimidate them) all the other POW’s sing not because of their being French, but because of their strong anti-Nazi / pro-freedom beliefs. Moreover, in Casablanca, Lazslo begins to sing La Marseillaise as a direct contrast to the Germans, who were priorly singing. After confirmation by Rick to play the song, the strength of American, French and all other nationalities singing the anthem hushes them and leads to a huge inspirational moment, in which the risk of the Nazis punishing them does not override their call for freedom (La Marseillaise)

  5. I completely agree with you. I felt as though the French Anthem in The Grand Illusion was meant to capture a time of celebration between imprisoned Comrades. But, in Casablanca the song is merely a rebuttal to the German Anthem being sung by the Germans at the bar at that time. So in Casablanca it has much more passion to it because after all it is the German Anthem versus the French Anthem.

  6. I agree with you. However I feel that this greater imprisonment
    in Casablanca is not so much physical but mental as it takes time
    to warm up Rick’s bar to the tune and to singing it. Hence while
    it carries rebellion, the feeling is short lived. As the “Free French” are still incapable of revolt on there own without a figurehead such as Laslo to help them.

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