Blu-ray. Anchor Bay.
any film could be said to sum up the difference between 1970s
cinema and everything that came before and after, then The
Night Porter would be a good contender. A head-on collision
between arthouse and mainstream cinema, featuring two big name
stars in the sort of roles that most Hollywood performers would
run a mile from today, and with a taboo-shattering central theme,
this is very much a film that could only have emerged in that
It’s also one of a handful of films – beginning with
the sleazy Love Camp 7 and also encompassing
Ilsa She Wolf of the SS and Salon Kitty
– that helped spawn one of the most contentious and short-lives
exploitation sub-genres, the ‘naziploitation’ film
that only lasted for a couple of years in the middle of the decade
– and again shows what a different world it was back then.
The further we get from World War 2, the more sensitive people
seem to be about Nazi imagery, and you can’t imagine any
films – be they sleazy soft porn or serious minded arthouse
films like this – daring to explore the sexual decadence
and fetishism involved in Nazi imagery.
Of all the films loosely connected in this sub-genre, The
Night Porter is by far the most respectable - and by
far the best. It’s also, arguably, misrepresented by its
public image. If you see a still from this film – or you
see a VHS, DVD or Blu-ray sleeve – you’d be forgiven
for imagining that the film is awash with eroticised Nazi imagery.
That’s not actually true. It’s notable that most of
the striking, provocative and, for many, outrageous imagery you’ll
see from this film is all taken from a single scene – an
admittedly powerful, unforgettable and iconic moment.
In fact, The Night Porter is a story of sexual
obsession and madness – the collision of two damaged people
who come together in the most extreme of circumstances. Dirk Bogarde
is Max, the SS officer at a concentration camp who becomes obsessed
with prisoner Lucia (Charlotte Rampling), who he plucks from the
prisoners to become his lover – a role that she finally
begins to embrace, becoming part of the Nazi machine and arguably
complicit in their crimes.
Years later, Max is working as a hotel porter and meeting with
fellow ex-Nazis to plan a defence / cover-up for any war crimes
trials that might happen. When Lucia and her classical conductor
husband check into the hotel, the past is brought back for both
of them, and soon they are rekindling their affair. As Max’s
former colleagues try to convince him to give her up (as a witness,
she is of great danger to them), the pair lock themselves away
in a more and more desperate attempt to block out the outside
This is an astonishing film, with genuinely breathtaking performances
from Bogarde and Rampling – the latter showing remarkable
bravery is a genuinely difficult role. It’s deeply uncomfortable
viewing, even for viewers used to seeing cinematic taboos challenged,
and it asks some uncomfortable questions about obsession, love,
madness, victimhood and guilt. Director Liliana Cavani give the
film a cold, distant feel and manages to make the central characters
seem sympathetic. As we’ve seen in countless conflicts since
WW2, war can turn even the most decent of people into monsters,
and the film humanises its characters without excusing their actions.
This is, certainly, a bleak tale. But it’s presented in
a highly approachable manner, subject matter aside, resulting
in a compelling tragedy that is unlike anything else you might
see. Clearly not for all tastes, The Night Porter
is, nevertheless, a masterpiece that will haunt you for a long
time after you see it.
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