The Night Porter

Today an old review. I wrote this in August 2000 and had pretty much forgotten I’d written it… until I received a message on Facebook last week, thanking me for the review. This girl had read my review, watched the film and liked it enough to send this message. May Il Portiere di Notte by Liliana Cavani inspire you too…

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 again. The first time I saw the movie I was a bit disappointed. I had heard so much about this movie that the film couldn’t live up to my high expectations. But 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.

Here’s a YouTube clip by ScathinglyBrilliant that combines scenes from the film with a Billie Holiday song. It’s not the same as the other clips you find on YouTube, which I often found too much censored on the shock scenes (and the jam scene – which is a spoiler). So there you go… take it away, Billie.

P.S. On second thought, it made me wonder why I had never locked this film into the Kurtodrome Vault… well, better late than never: it’s in the Vault now.

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