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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Many people have thought this was a loathsome one, and I can't blame
them. When I saw this movie for the first time, it left a depressive
and nauseating feeling. But I cannot agree that this is barely "nazi
sexploitation" sleaze. In fact, "the Night Porter" is a perfect
psychological study of masochism. And masochism is not cheap sleaze, it
is a terrible addiction that even basically "normal" people can get
trapped into, even though they know it will destroy them. Very much
like drug addiction.
Besides, if you're into movies, it's pretty obvious right from the start that this is the work of real professionals. Director Liliana Cavani was not famous before she did this, but she certainly knew how to make a movie, and had learnt the best lessons from her more famous counterparts. As for the acting by the two main performers, Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling, it is just top class, no more to say.
The movie starts on a bleak day in Vienna in the 1950's. It focuses right away on the character of Max (Dirk Bogarde), who works as a night porter at a fancy hotel. We soon find out that this ungrateful job is a hideout, as he is a former nazi. And the hotel is actually a secret meeting place for gatherings of former Nazis, who are well determined to let nobody track them down. One day,a group arrives at the hotel. Among them, a beautiful woman (Charlotte Rampling). Her deep blue gaze freezes as her eyes meet the night porter's. They have recognized each other. She was kept years before,as a young girl, at a concentration camp where the night porter was operating as an SS guard. It gets soon hinted at by flashbacks that they had a close relationship, which helped her survive physically, even if she was left mentally destroyed.
The woman, Lucia, is married to an orchestra director who tours in Vienna. He is just vaguely aware of her wife's past, and as she demands him to depart immediately, he convinces her to stay "for just a few days". Lucia is in fact desperately asking for help, but her bland husband doesn't understand. As for Max, he is both afraid to be reported, and at the same time irresistibly attracted. He attends the opera performance where Lucia's husband is playing, while she is in the public. They sit there in the dark, obsessed by each other's presence while "the Magic Flute" is playing, but none of them makes a single move. That's a chilling scene.
Lucia's husband is surprised as, when they are about to leave, she demands to stay "for just a few days". It is already too late. Lucia has lived through hell, then built a new life abroad and more or less forgotten. But it seems life doesn't taste anything for her anymore, just no more suffering that's all. With Max, she experienced a horrible but passionate love affair, and in the deep of her heart, she remained addicted to that atrocious intensity. She is like a former alcoholic who has quit for years but suddenly falls back.The rest of the story is predictable. Max and Lucia find each other again, and cannot part anymore,whatever it may lead them to. Actually, it can only lead them to death. Max's nazi colleagues spy on each other constantly, and soon find out about the affair. Both Max and Lucia become dangerous people who must be eliminated.
We learn more through flashbacks about the past relationship between Max and Lucia. The key scene of the movie takes place in a smoky and sinister officer's mess, where masked men are playing a gloomy tune on an accordion. Half naked Lucia wearing an SScap performs a song by Marlene Dietrich which says "If I were to wish for something, I would like to be just a little happy, because if I were too happy, I would long for suffering". Couldn't be more explicit. As she has finished her show, she joins Max at a table, and he has a present for her in a box. A horrible present. The severed head of a prisoner who kept bothering her. Lucia recoils incredulous as she opens the box, then looks in Max's eyes and sips in her glass of wine. What more extreme love present can a man make than killing for the woman he loves? This scene is almost unbearable, and it's precisely the film's essential five minutes.
So if you don't like this film, it sounds like a normal reaction. It's actually difficult to "like" it , but one can find it interesting and important. Especially those who have experienced sexual abuse by relatives, drug addiction or alcoholism, or people who are related or engaged to such people. That makes quite a few. When one is plunged into destruction, a solution is to take a liking for it. But it's an extreme solution, which gets you intoxicated for life, and may lead you to seek total destruction as an only way out.
The phenomenon described in the movie has been observed many times, even though it is difficult to understand or accept for an outsider. When people are abused and isolated for a long time, whether in prison or in their own family, it usual that they develop a bond with their abuser, as he or she becomes their main affective reference. This is commonly referred to as "the Stockholm syndrome".
Better you don't watch this if you're feeling down.
In some ways this film is still very shocking. Although it is neither
violent nor vulgar, the situation is disturbing and violent -actually it's
something we DON'T see with our eyes: a psychological violence.
Some years after the end of Second World War, a woman meets in a hotel her jailer during her concentration camp period. He was an SS officer, now he's a night porter. With him she re-starts a relationship made of attraction and sadomasochism.
The film is shocking because it describes an insane situation, led by two insane people. These are the disturbing elements of the film, because spectators don't feel well in seeing that. The atmosphere has something very icy and miserable. I think it's precisely Liliana Cavani's goal: a study of insanity, without self-indulgence.
After 30 years "Night porter" remains a gem. An intelligent movie, full of provocation. Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bogarde are extraordinary.
Even though I was planning to watch something else that Saturday night, I
came across BBC2 where "The Night Porter" was on and saw it once
The first time I saw the movie I was a bit disappointed. I had heard so
about this movie that the film couldn't live up to my high expectations.
some scenes found a place in the back of my mind and stayed there. The
second time I saw it I was intrigued more and more and ever since I see it
as the classic it should be.
If ever there was a difficult movie, it was "The Night Porter". The pace is slow and the characters are all weird. There aren't many movies where you get a homosexual Nazi wanting to be a ballet dancer and a sadistic Nazi still in love with love with a masochistic girl from the camps. (There's more, but I don't want to spoil the plot.) Only a spark of the plot could have been the subject for lots of raunchy exploitation movies, but "The Night Porter" manages to keep its class. The movies is set years after the war. Some Nazis were fortunate enough not to be caught and got on with their lives. Unfortunately one person has survived the camps as well. She immediately recognizes Max (Dirk Bogarde), her cruel S&M-master, and he (now a night porter in a hotel) recognizes her (Charlotte Rampling) as well. The only problem is that the other living Nazis cannot know she's still alive, or they would assassinate her. The passion between Max and his former slave returns and the Nazis find out about their relationship. Max tries to keep her out of their hands, so madly in love that he wants to die for her. (Again, more information would spoil the movie.)
"The Night Porter" is one of the few movies where S&M-relationships aren't immediately reduced to a bunch of idiots and losers playing around with whips and leather masks. It also dares to show you other Nazis than the Pavlovian dogs you normally get to see. And above all it stars Charlotte Rampling as Lucia. Watch her as she performs the dance of Salomé and gets a present from Max (know your Bible and have an idea of what's to come). Watch her face and her near-skeletonlike body very closefully: that is how you should act disgust. Watch her as she locks herself in the bathroom and tries to hurt Max's foot with some glass. Listen to the music, the perfect addition to this murky movie.
Due to the difficulty of the movie it'll never raise above its status as cult classic and actually that's a shame. Be brave and try it.
A controversial and shocking movie? Definitely, and the way some people
today profess to be jaded about "The Night Porter" says more about our
current culture than about the movie itself. Other persons who
experienced the Holocaust first-hand have reacted negatively towards it
for its portrayal of a destructive but loving relationship born amidst
the Holocaust. Their objections are certainly understandable. There has
also been, though, an awful lot of politically-correct garbage and
pretentious nonsense written about "The Night Porter," much of which
has missed or misinterpreted some of the strongest elements of the
When I first saw "The Night Porter" in the early 1980's, it certainly had the power to shock me and many others, yet at the same time it offered a depth of aesthetic experience well beyond just shock for its own sake. These aesthetic qualities produce a sense of doom and sadness, yet also show beauty and love amidst the hopelessness.
Dirk Bogarde gives a really masterful performance as Max, a former Nazi SS man who bears a huge burden of guilt. After World War II, Max works at the main desk of a gorgeous old hotel in Vienna. Here he re-encounters Lucia, who survived the Nazi concentration camps, where she was a victim of Max's sadism. Bogarde's Max, and Charlotte Rampling as Lucia, do not say a word at first during their unexpected postwar encounter in the hotel, yet their understated expressiveness speaks paragraphs. The most controversial parts of the movie show the sort of sado-masochistic relationship which the two resume soon afterwards. While this relationship is very disturbing, with Max's sometimes cruel nature and the destructiveness of the mutual attraction, there is also a kind of love expressed by the two towards each other. Lucia is certainly a victim, yet she also consciously holds a power over Max. The sado-masochism is not glamourized, and I don't see any suggestion that these two lovers are any sort of role models. Yet they also evoke sympathy.
Throughout the movie, Bogarde is able to show a wide range of thoughts and emotions by just a slight movement of the corner of his mouth, or by the raising of an eyebrow. Rampling shows vulnerability and also the power that she has over Max. She sometimes appears like a sleek, sly cat, and at other times clearly like the victim of the camp horrors. Other actors such as Philippe Leroy, Isa Miranda and Amedeo Amodio also do a nice and sometimes subtle job of expressing the psychic state of their characters. Another character, an Italian who survived awful times, appears like a dog who has been beaten and fears another whipping.
"The Night Porter" can be slow-moving, yet this is punctuated by some very vivid scenes. For me, the most striking one is a flashback to a time during the war when Bert, a Nazi associate of Max, puts on a performance for a group of SS men and women, to the accompaniment of some gorgeous classical music. Not only does the scene seem to have a very sinister quality, but Amodio as Bert expresses an emotional longing which has important repercussions. There is also another very eerie flashback showing a musical, cabaret-style performance by Lucia for her SS captors. Something of the corruption, moral bankruptcy and hopelessness of Nazism is conjured up by this scene.
On the downside, some of the minor characters are portrayed in a caricaturish way, the voice dubbing can be off-putting, and some plot elements towards the end of the movie are at times very silly. Through those failures, though, I think the movie still succeeds aesthetically. Partly this is due to the appealing yet melancholy and ominous musical score by Daniele Paris and others, the disturbing magnetism of Max and Lucia, and the cinematography. Throughout the movie the beautiful, fascinating city of Vienna almost seems a character in itself.
"The Night Porter" is certainly not for everyone. In addition to its portrayal of a very disturbing, unconventional love relationship, it has a few brief scenes of graphic sex, and small bits of the ugliness of the camps. For those who don't mind getting through those parts, its aesthetic qualities can be very rewarding. Be warned though that the movie contains much ugliness along with its beauty. As Lucia says to someone who is trying to use pschoanalytical games to avoid his guilt and shame, "There is no cure."
A jaw-dropping study on love in the most obscure of circumstances. It's an intense and compelling study of these characters who flow in the most opposite of circles (one a Nazi, the other a Jewish prisoner in the concentration camp he works at) and a love that transcends anything I've imagined experiencing. I've heard the film called dull numerous times and I could see why one would think this, but I thought the haunting silences only made the film more engaging and had my eyes further glued to the screen. The structure of spasmodically switching from scenes in the concentration camp to when the two lovers see each other again in 1957 really helped put the viewer into the mind-set of the two main characters. It jars the mind and keeps us aware of this inordinate love and why these people are so confused and attracted to one another. A truly original technique that I really admired. Liliana Cavani uses angles and wide-shots that create a haunting sense of passion and really made the cinematography rank high among my all time favorites. Dick Bogarde and especially Charlotte Rampling are phenomenal. Their performances are passionate, intense and natural. The film certainly lived up to my expectations.
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.
This is quite dark. If you are seeking material that can be described as "happy" or "light", you will not find it here. I didn't know anyone in this prior to viewing. This deals with Max, the night porter of the title, who has tried to put his past in the SS behind him. One night, he spots a woman, Lucia, and they both recognize each other... she was one of the concentration camp prisoners, and the two had a specific relationship with one another. The plot is captivating. This is deliberately paced, and those who have short attention spans, and/or wish for a lot of developments in a feature are not the intended audience for this. I found the behavior of all of the characters chillingly psychologically accurate, and this definitely takes a long, hard, unflinching and uncompromising look at human nature and the mind, and not everyone is going to like the observations. The acting is excellent. All of the leads disappear into their roles. They are all well-cast, too, talent as well as physical types. I don't know if anything similar to this has truly happened, but I can imagine it, and this does pay respect to the historical events. The editing mixes flashbacks and the present effectively. This has disturbing content, including violence, sexuality that is not graphic and explicit nudity. None of it is gratuitous. The DVD has credits and posters, and while the print starts out looking shabby, it turns out to be perfectly fine. I recommend this to anyone who believes they can handle it, and is mature enough, from reading this review. 7/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Way back in the mists of time, in the early 1970's, there were some directors (both male and female) who made sincere efforts to make films that dealt with themes of fringe-sexuality and dark nihilism, but create them with seriousness, mood, and poignancy: in other words, they tried to raise the fringes up to the level of High Art.
Along with films like "Last Tango in Paris", "The Night Porter" is a story about a very implausible encounter between 2 people who willingly descend into self-destructive behavior and death. The story involves a female Holocaust-survivor who accidentally reunites with a man who used to be a Nazi guard at her concentration-camp, and who had sexually tormented her. But we're to believe that she actually loved this man, and fondly remembers his sexual exploitation of her in the camp, portrayed through many flashbacks.
The very idea of this occurring in real life defies belief, but perhaps that's not the point. I assume the director, who is a woman, wants the viewer to accept the scenario as-is and then ponder the many gray areas of sexual morality and emotional bondage between men and women, and then question the "dark side of the soul" and where it leads us if we explore its power too deeply. I assume the film's nihilistic ending is the director's answer to these questions.
The film's pace is very ponderous and pensive, with long periods of silence and wordless flashbacks to the Holocaust. The film is very moody, includes some very pretty Classical music scores, and the camera frames scenes with may creative angles and reflections.
Charlotte Rampling is really quite good in her role as the Holocaust survivor. Most people remember her topless dance in one of her flashbacks, where she dances seductively for several Nazi officers, but it's actually quite tastefully done, filmed as an odd analogy of the New Testament story of Salome's Last Dance. It's probably one her best roles, despite the unbelievable context.
This film is very much part of that genre of early 1970's films known today as "Cinema of Alienation". The early 70's was a time of some pretty serious artistic Angst, which is a mindset that can sometimes produce very powerful art. The film's ending would never get past Hollywood today, since American audiences are supposed to walk out of theaters feeling happy and secure, not disturbed.
I recommend the film. It will linger in your mind for quite a while. But it's not a date-movie, so choose your co-viewers wisely. Remember, this is High Art... ;-)
I saw this film quite by accident last night on IFC and have been walking around in a state of near tears ever since. What really struck me about the story was not the sadomasochistic aspect which I actually found to be rather minor, (He slaps her around a bit and there is a scene where she is chained to a bed), but rather the tenderness and love shown by Max. He calls her "his little girl" throughout the movie and indeed that seems to be the most accurate description of his feelings. I couldn't help thinking of Lolita and indeed it is a similar idea. In both stories the man is both the tormentor and the tormented. Because he is in a position of absolute power of course he is the exploiter, but also it is almost as though he is held captive by "her", the illusive girl/child/women he want to both take care of the way one would a daughter and also penetrate like a lover. And in both stories this proves of course to be impossible as the mans very nature (in one case he is a pedophile, in another a Nazi) prevents it from being so.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spoilers. The story is mechanically simple. A Sturmbahnfuhrer more or
falls in love with, and adopts, a beautiful young inmate of a
camp. After the war he joins a group of men with similar backgrounds who
are devoted to the task of erasing all evidence of their iniquitous pasts,
including the rubbing out of living witnesses. By accident, the ex-Nazi,
now a hotel porter, runs into his former victim. They fall in love and
reestablish their sadomasochistic relationship. The other members of his
group discover that he is now living with his lover. The ex-Nazi refuses
turn her over and as a result they are both murdered.
Why this simple story arouses such hatred in viewers and critics isn't easy to understand. The general feeling seem to be that the Nazi program of extermination shouldn't be treated lightly. Here we have nudity, male homosexuality, fellatio, sodomy, rolling around and having intercourse on a jelly-covered floor. (Did I leave anything out?) And of course anything with a radiant young Charlotte Rampling running around in the nude can't be all tragic.
But the movies treat the holocaust "lightly" all the time, if by "lightly" we mean exploitatively. The most familiar stories center on survivors, all of whom carry with them an undeniable moral weight. (The power of survivorhood is so intense that recently a number of stories have come to light in which individuals invented histories of concentration camp experiences.) And, of course, all Germans must be the devils in a living hell. These are convenient myths but they cheapen what actually happened and lead to a misunderstanding of the kind that perpetuates racial and national hatreds. Historically the episode was worse than the media seem to imagine. The inmates were not all saints. The guards were not all sadists. (At least some of them must have been capable of love.) The Nazis didn't kill six million people in the camps. They killed more than twice that number if you count not only Jews but homosexuals, communists, the mentally retarded, gypsies, and political undesirables.
These considerations rather complicate matters. Evil there was, without question, but as is usual in human affairs, it was mixed in with other very common personality and social traits. The media treatment of the holocaust is usually so simple minded that it relieves us of the need for thought.
"The Night Porter" is unsettling because it violates these strictures. With his past, Max, the Dirk Bogarde figure, must not have any redeeming qualities. Lucia, his victim, cannot possibly care for him. Since we don't want to believe any of this -- and it IS implausible -- it's easy to hate this movie.
But actually it isn't so terribly done. There is, first, Charlotte Rampling, unbeatable in this sort of role. Then there is Dirk Bogarde, who has never given a better performance, except perhaps in "The Servant." What he does with an ordinary scene, sitting at a table or desk, is outstanding in itself. He seems to compulsively rub a napkin or piece of paper slowly and methodically across the surface. Absent the cloth or paper, he quietly squishes his fingertips against the wood.
It isn't a great movie but neither does it deserve the scorn that's been heaped upon it.
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