Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Night Porter

Il Portiere di notte; Drama, Italy, 1974; D: Liliana Cavani, S: Dirk Bogarde, Charlotte Rampling, Philippe Leroy, Gabriele Ferzetti, Isa Miranda

Vienna, '57. Max, a former Nazi SS officer, now works as a night porter in a hotel. Now and then he arranges a young lover for the old countess in the hotel. One day, a new guest checks into his hotel; Lucia, a Jewish girl he had an affair with in the concentration camp. She is terrified by him at first, but later on caught in the passion and their wild affair continues right where it ended. But Max's colleagues, ex Nazis, are trying to eliminate every witness for the upcoming trial. That's why Max decides to hide Lucia in an apartment. Eventually, the couple is cornered by the ex Nazis in the apartment, slowly starving. One night, Max and Lucia sneak out in a car and continue their getaway on a bridge, where they are both shot and killed.

Among the controversial films that handled the theme of the Holocaust and Nazi-Fascist era in an unusual way, "The Night Porter" is one of those that stands out. Surprisingly, the movie isn't actually that controversial for it's reputation: it actually speaks about a Nazi who found his humanity when he fell in love with a Jewish girl in a concentration camp and decided to protect her, a story that was also later handled as a subplot in the famous "Schindler's List". Liliana Cavani directs the film surprisingly calm and tranquil, slowly letting the creepy mood prevail, and there are enough uncomfortable, wicked moments present: in flashbacks, Max remembers how the Nazis were filming a group of naked prisoners in a row in the concentration camp. The prisoners are being rotated on a swing carousel while the Nazis are randomly shooting at them. Still, unlike some provocative films that have nothing to offer except for cheap and dumb provocations, this one actually seems to have a real message and clear strategy what it's doing, being provocative with a reason: the relationship between Max and Lucia is bizarre, in three scenes showing even slight sadomasochistic features (she breaks the glass and he steps on it) but it seems he is genuinely in love with her and wants to protect her. And there's hardly something problematic about that.

That the movie isn't cheap at all shows one brilliantly executed scene: it's never shown how Max killed Mario, who could have identified Lucia and putt her in danger. It is only showed how they went fishing, and then Max returned to his room and lied on his bed nervously, while in the background Mario's words can be heard: "Max...What are you doing?...No! Stop...!", accompanied by a loud splash. "The Night Porter" never shows people as completely good or bad, but always as something in between. Even tough Max rejected Nazi ideology and started despising his colleagues, he is never completely a good guy. Sadly, Lucia's role is poorly developed and thin: her motivations, emotions and thoughts are never revealed and it's never clear why she chooses to be with Max, even after being freed from the concentration camp. Also, the last 20-30 minutes of the film, where the ex Nazis are hunting the couple, are rather confusing, chaotic, uneven and illogical, but they give same bitter insight into the relics of the past that still haunt some people and man's eternal tendency to never change. Also, the SM elements in the story are bizarrely overblown by some voices, since it just shows a despised, misunderstood couple in a relationship they want, tyring to get free from society."The Night Porter" could have been a lot better, but as it is, it's still a very interesting take on human psychology.


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