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Thirteen years after WWII a concentration camp survivor (Rampling) and her tormentor, currently the night porter at a Vienna hotel, meet again and fall back into their sado-masochistic relationship. Written by
Ed Sutton <email@example.com>
Very flawed but interesting and often beautiful film
It's easy to dismiss a film like this or Salo or In the Realm of the Senses as garbage. It's too easy, in fact, and not very fair. These films are all very interesting, if you can take them. And, if you can't stand the heat, hey, stay out of the kitchen.
Among the ranks of what I'll call the Artsploitation flick, The Night Porter is rather tame. There are only a couple of hardcore sex scenes, and there are really only two scenes with nudity.
What I like about this film is, first and foremost, the performance by Dirk Bogarde. The subtle guilt and shame he projects is simply amazing. He really builds a three dimensional character, and mostly without dialogue. Other performers are weaker. Charlotte Rampling, his captive, gives a very uneven performance. Sometimes it seems on the money, other times it seems forced, or blank. None of the others are really worth mentioning, except for that one actor's ballet dancing, which is quite remarkable.
Cavani's direction is sensuous. I saw this film for the second time today,
and I had failed to notice before that it was directed by a woman. Unfortunately, that doesn't affect my reading of the film any, but it is interesting. This definitely seemed like a male project. Cavani's direction has a certain grace, a certain elegance. The film contains several scenes that could be called masterpieces in the midst of a lesser work. My favorite in the entire film is the one where Lucia locks herself in the bathroom, breaks a bottle in front of the door, and then allows Max to run in after her. This scene is so marvelously directed, it would work particularly well when seen as a separate entity. The famous nude cabaret song, the one depicted on the Criterion cover, is also exquisite.
Technically, it is perfect. The cinematography is beautiful, as I've mentioned. The musical score is also gorgeous. It's possibly one of the greatest. The biggest failure of the film is definitely its script. The story is very difficult to follow. It's never clear exactly what has happened since the war, and what these former Nazis are doing in Vienna. It's also unclear what exactly the trials are that are always being brought up. And I'm not sure what they are afraid of, what they originally plan to do with Lucia, or anything like that. Or why they can't break into Max's apartment again. A lot of this stuff seems silly. I would have also liked Lucia's character better developed. We get the sense that she accepted Max's advances so quickly so that she could get his protection, which she receives in that biblical dance scene. I want more yet. With Max so well developed, Lucia feels somewhat like an object for the plot.
I rate this a high 7/10.
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