Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Night Porter (1974)

Director: Liliana Cavani

Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Chalotte Rampling, Philippe Leroy, Gabriele Ferzetti, Giuseppe Addobbati

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The Most Controversial Picture of Our Time!

Plot: Thirteen years after WWII a concentration camp survivor (Rampling) and her Nazi tormentor (Bogarde), currently the night porter at a Vienna hotel, meet again and fall back into their sado-masochistic relationship.

My rating: 8/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

THE NIGHT PORTER is the art house entry into the Nazisploitation genre, although I'm sure the very thought would repulse anyone associated with the film. It's the story of love found in the most unlikely of places and circumstances and between two people whose relationship is doomed from the start. This is the one Nazisploitation flick that non-genre fans and film snobs will have seen. The controversial nature of its subject alone has a certain attraction but then so does the inclusion of Bogarde and Rampling not to mention the direction by a woman, something unusual (by the general public's standards, not mine) given the harsh subject matter.

At just under two hours, it can be a very slow watch for a lot of people. Personally, after three viewings over the past twenty years, I find it just as fascinating as I did the first time and the pacing doesn't bother me at all. Make no mistake about it, at its heart, this is a love story with elements of distaste and disgust (for most people, anyway).

Bogarde and Rampling are the meat of the film and their performances are honest and true yet surreal at times. The flashbacks to the salad days of the camp are well juxtaposed against the current 1957 setting. You might find them unsettling but you can't deny their importance for being included in the film.

The sensual cabaret-esque Marlene Dietrich-like sequence is...uh...HOT!

I really enjoyed the subplot of the group of former SS that Max belongs to and how they have their own system of protecting one another, finding and destroying evidence and witnesses so their identities can remain anonymous to the world and to hunters of Nazi war criminals. I'd like to see a film, a GOOD film, about that subject alone. I forget the name of the movie from the mid-70s that dealt with the underground SS survivors. It was pretty good but it was more in line with one of those big sensational novels that Hollywood would produce a big budget picture with A-list stars. THE ODESSA FILE (1974), that's it. I'd like to see something better and more engaging than a mere thriller.

The only thing I have an issue with in THE NIGHT PORTER is the score by Daniele Paris. It's as thin and weak as the victims of the camp. I'm not saying it should have been a large orchestral score or anything, it's just that Paris' themes often needed better orchestration. There's much to like but it didn't go quite the distance it needed to in order to give the film more impact. But then what the hell do I know? I just watched a movie called NAZI SEX EXPERIMENTS (1973) and I'm about to watch another one called SS EXPERIMENT LOVE CAMP (1974).

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