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THE NIGHT PORTER
Review by Michael Jacobson
Dirk Bogarde, Charlotte Rampling
Director: Liliana Cavani
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1
Length: 118 Minutes
Release Date: January 11, 2000
Night Porter impels
and repels in equal measures, like a magnet that can’t decide it’s own
polarity. It’s unapologetic in
the way it revels in lurid, tasteless subject matter, but unlike a film like Salo,
for example, at least here, we’re watching two adults who are where they
are because they choose to be. That
makes it a little more palatable…doesn’t it?
have called The Night Porter the first of a series of European Nazi
fetish pictures…movies that seem to find something characteristically
attractive in the sheer brutality of that fascist regime.
That concept alone is enough to turn off the majority of the normal world
population…in idea alone, I’m definitely one of them.
there’s something so strange about the way the two central characters, who
should by any account despise each other, manage to come together in kind of a
helpless abandon and for all the wrong reasons, but reasons that are pure to
them, if repulsive to us.
of those characters is Max (Bogarde), a night porter in a respectable hotel in
Vienna in the late 1950s. He seems
normal enough at first…even dismissable…until we begin to learn of his past.
The other major character, Lucia (Rampling), helps bring it back to him.
She is Jewish, and once a prisoner of a concentration camp Max lorded
over with brutal efficiency. We see
flashbacks of how horrid and cruel he was to her, but that’s not the surprise
that director Liliana Cavini had in store for us. The surprise is that she was a willing participant in the
reunited in Max’s hotel better than a decade later, both leading respectable
existences, they have a chance to relive those moments again.
But their passion, for lack of a better word, is not without
one of the more bizarre story twists I’ve ever seen, we find that Max has kept
in touch with some of his old Nazi buddies (or vice versa).
All have managed to escape war tribunal justice to that point, and all
lead seemingly normal lives, but the group still convenes from time to time for
an unwholesome ritual of catharsis. They
actually put one another on mock trials to help relieve them of the weight of
their wartime deeds…and also to dig up any potential witnesses that might
actually come to light in a real trial. These
witnesses are, of course, dealt with accordingly.
is Max’s turn to stand trial, and the group won’t accept his refusal to
participate, nor his protection of Lucia, the one woman who could seal his fate
in reality and start their whole house of cards coming down.
This all cumulates in a lengthy, improbable but somewhat fascinating
sequence where the Nazis surround the couple in Max’s flat to starve them out.
sex, concentration camp torture, passion expressed through misery, Nazis who are
still getting away with murder…I guess you could call it a picture that has
something for just about everyone. If
you’re not repulsed by one aspect, you’re certain to find something else to
The Night Porter won’t be so easily brushed aside.
Perhaps it’s the fact that it looks at the horrific through a
translucent curtain of sadness. While it’s easy to know what to think of the Nazis, it’s
a little harder to judge Max and Lucia. To
say that they are both very, very sick people and close the book on them would
be simple enough. But to try and
understand their mutual, destructive love is more of a challenge. Maybe even impossible.
Cavini failed in achieving that understanding.
But she did make a film that’s hard to get out of your head once it’s
is a mostly good effort from Criterion, particularly in the coloring, which is
strong and vivid throughout. The
only real complaints are occasional print problems:
spots, nicks, scratches here and there.
Nothing too out of the ordinary for an older film, but noteworthy
nonetheless. Apart from that,
images are sharp and clear all the way, with only minimal instances of grain
noticeable in some darker settings.
mono soundtrack is adequate, even if the film’s post-dubbing of dialogue is a
little obvious most of the way. The
spoken words are clear, and there’s very little noticeable noise or aging
artifacts behind them.