Synopsis: In this unsettling drama from Italian filmmaker Liliana Cavani, a concentration camp survivor (Charlotte Rampling) discovers her former r and lover (Dirk Bogarde) working as a porter at a hotel in postwar Vienna. When the couple attempt to re-create their sadomasochistic relationship, his former SS comrades begin to stalk them. Operatic and disturbing, The Night Porter deftly examines the lasting social and psychological effects of the Nazi regime.
eyelights: Charlotte Rampling. the plot. the couple’s complex relationship. Vienna.
eyesores: Charlotte Rampling’s crap wig. its lack of tension. the artificial-looking flashbacks.
“I’m here of my own free will. This chain is because of you, so none of you can take me away.”
‘Il portiere di notte’ is an erotic psychological drama by Liliana Cavani. Set in post-WWII Vienna, it recounts the reunion of a former Nazi jailer and one of his Jewish prisoners and of the complex relationship that develops in its aftermath.
Akin to the Stockholm Syndrome, the dynamic between Max and Lucia becomes one of intermingled love and hatred; she feels compassion for Max and he falls completely in love with her, to the extent that neither can bear to part with the other.
Max is now a concierge in one of Vienna’s high-class hotels. He has no qualms manipulating his staff into sexually servicing the residents and he will even indulge a gay acquaintance by shining spotlights for him while he dances late at night.
Lucia is now married to a world-renowned orchestra conductor. They are in passing in Vienna for one of his concerts when she crosses path with Max. She had put her former life completely behind her, but is now confronted with it once again.
Both stay up at night worried about what the other might do: She is worried that he might abuse her again, while he is afraid that she might speak out against him – heretofore, there had been no known witnesses to the atrocities that he’s committed.
And it so happens that he’s due for his own mock trial, run in concert with Nazi friends of his to ensure that their defenses are rock solid – ever since the infamous Nuremberg trials, they have been worried that they could someday be found out and tried.
They are mounting their defense, destroying evidence… and eradicating witnesses.
Lucia puts a wrench in their plans, and Max finds himself trying to prevent them from discovering her. But the more he tries to conceal and protect her, the more he becomes intrinsically attached to her, the less he can bear to be without her.
Similarly, the more time she spends with him, the more she realizes that the balance has shifted: While he begins by tying her and locking her in his apartment, she comes to feel safer with him and even sympathize with him for the risks he is taking.
They will become inseparable, till death do them part.
‘Il portiere di notte’ isn’t an easy film to watch and digest: it’s a tragic love story that explores the darkest recesses of the human heart, where pleasure and pain intermingle, creating an unhealthy cocktail that can stain the soul forever.
It also shows just how low humanity can go, debasing others for one’s personal satisfaction – for pleasure and sometimes for the simple thrill of wielding power over another. Lucia has suffered many psychological horrors – some which we are privy to.
Having said this, it’s also a beautiful film in some aspects, starting with the aesthetic quality of Vienna, whose streets and architecture are filled with character, to the passion growing between Max and Lucia, to the delicate beauty of Lucia herself.
Charlotte Rampling delivers a captivating performance as Lucia, pristine ivory in the present and frail, ethereal, in the past. She made a few choices that were absolutely fascinating, like her feline behaviour when she’s interrogated by Max’s peer.
There’s another scene that’s notable, in which she sings a cabaret tune, topless, wearing only pants with suspenders, long gloves and an SS hat to entertain her jailers. It’s both pretty and disturbing, showing how much power she wielded in her captivity.
Meanwhile, Max is incarnated by Dirk Bogarte, who plays him uncomfortable, awkward, emotionally constipated. He’s not a pleasant person to watch, all weary and paranoid, but when he’s with Lucia he loses his edge a little bit, gets beyond cruelty to love her.
And this is his redemption. When the others start honing in on Lucia and discover that he’s hiding her, he stands between them and protects her, locking the rest of the world out until they launch an attack that he can’t defend indefinitely against.
Thankfully, most of the violence is emotional (instead of being physical or visceral) and even this is finely balanced with the sweetness of love’s passion, culminating in a scene so deliciously sexy that the whole dark journey is worth it in the end.
‘Il portiere di notte’ is not for all tastes, that’s for sure, but it’s an intriguing look at the complexities of the human heart. At the very least one comes out of it pondering the extents that we are willing to go to experience passion – and life itself.
In death one can find life and in life death.
And passion is in the middle.
Date of viewing: June 29, 2016