The dark and melancholy story of a former teenage Nazi concentration camp inmate, Lucia, and the S.S. officer who was her torturer/lover, Max , who accidentally meet again in a Vienna hotel in 1957 where Max works as the night porter. They resume their sadomasochistic relationship, although Max\'s former S.S. comrades have something different in mind for them. The story unfolds like a gruesome dance of death.
Dirk Bogarde ... Maximilian Theo Aldorfer
Charlotte Rampling ... Lucia Atherton
Philippe Leroy ... Klaus
Gabriele Ferzetti ... Hans
Giuseppe Addobbati ... Stumm
Isa Miranda ... Countess Stein
Nino Bignamini ... Adolph
Marino Masé ... Atherton
Amedeo Amodio ... Bert
Piero Vida ... Day Porter
Geoffrey Copleston ... Kurt
Manfred Freyberger ... Dobson (as Manfred Freiberger)
Ugo Cardea ... Mario
Hilda Gunther ... Greta
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.
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.