on January 25, 2004
"The Night Porter" must have been one of those films that shocked people when it first came out. Directed by Liliana Cavani and sporting a garish cover on the Criterion Collection DVD (yes, the cover image does come from a scene in the movie, but not in the way you would think), "The Night Porter" deals with extremely unpleasant psychological situations stemming from the holocaust. The film is definitely not for everyone, but those capable of keeping an open mind may find much to like about this generally repulsive piece of art house cinema. You have to hand it to Criterion for continuing to release pristine transfers of films considered anathema to mainstream audiences. My experiences with this DVD company have introduced me to such wondrous delights as "Blood for Dracula," "Man Bites Dog," "Peeping Tom," "Hearts and Minds," and several other challenging titles. My only gripe with Criterion concerns the cost of their DVDs, which often seem quite high even for such great movies.
"The Night Porter" is about a night porter working in a fancy hotel in Vienna, Austria twelve years after the end of World War II. If the movie merely touched on the surface aspects involving night portering, it would be a dull affair indeed. How to make a film delving into the multifaceted fascinations of checking in luggage, or taking phone calls from irate customers? No, "The Night Porter" has little to do with the hotel industry and much to do with a hideous relationship between two tortured souls. The night porter at this particular hotel, Max Aldorfer (Dirk Bogarde), was once an SS officer assigned to a concentration camp where he tortured and killed inmates. Post war investigations into war atrocities has Max and his fellow Nazi henchmen on edge; they meet often to discuss their efforts to suppress evidence and other ways to cover their tracks. Max is ambivalent about these meetings, and becomes even more so after a chance meeting with a woman he had a very special relationship with in the camp. This woman, Lucia Atherton (Charlotte Rampling), initially expresses horror at seeing her former lover/tormentor in the flesh after all these years, but then something grim and repellent happens. The sick spark that united victim and oppressor all those years ago blossoms anew. Lucia feigns a lame excuse to her husband about staying behind so she can indulge her desires for Max. And this is only the beginning of the trouble.
Max's friends express great alarm about this relationship. They see Lucia's presence as a significant danger to their yearning for anonymity, and they want Max to jettison the love affair and come over to their way of thinking. Max suspects spending time with Atherton presents a danger to him, but he cannot bear the idea of giving her up again. He secrets her away in his apartment in an effort to hide the relationship from his companions, who warn Max that keeping this woman in bondage will force them to take drastic measures to insure their secrecy. The former Nazi's go so far as to monitor Max's apartment twenty four hours a day, taking pot shots at him whenever he sticks his head outside for even a minute. When Max and Lucia run out of food and drink, they make a terrible decision about their future that will have permanent, unpleasant results for the pair.
It would be easy to write off "The Night Porter" as an exploitation film, a movie in the same vein as Tinto Brass's "Salon Kitty" or "Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS," two films which borrow themes from National Socialist Germany to make a cheap statement about the nightmare of the holocaust. "The Night Porter" does contain many disturbing images that could rate as exploitation fare: the flashbacks to the concentration camp where Max and Lucia first meet immediately comes to mind, as does the little dance number Lucia performs for her lover and a room full of SS officers. Having said that, I really don't feel this movie is exploitative. There is something more going on here than mere sensationalism, perhaps a statement about the nature of power and how it pertains to love during a horrific event. I would need to watch the film again to examine Lucia's desire for Max, but for the former SS officer I think the need to relive a time when he was a man with position and power is the main reason he rekindles this doomed relationship. Here's a guy who held the power of life and death over thousands of people, and now he works as a lowly hotel clerk. Why wouldn't he want to taste again the rush of power he gets when he dominates Lucia in his apartment? Sure, it is sick, but people do inexplicable things in relationships all the time that are just as disturbing.
A quick note on the performances: Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bogarde both excel in their respective roles. Rampling especially is always easy on the eyes and has a wonderfully expressive face capable of transmitting complex emotions to the audience without uttering a word. If for no other reason, you should watch this film just to see these two actors turn in amazing performances. Married with a marvelous picture transfer, sumptuous set pieces, gloomy atmosphere, and a great script, "The Night Porter" is a one of a kind film that is sure to make an impression. Thanks again, Criterion, for releasing yet another brilliant cinematic oddity.
on April 17, 2004
Although it has brought uprobrium on all involved, and nearly ended the film careers of Bogarde and Rampling, this is a remarkable study of post-traumatic stress syndrome. There were many such stories in Vienna, twelve years after WW II, and this one is studied with nearly flawless timing. The ex-Nazi goons are repulsive, of course, but a necessary exteriorization of the persecuting demons within. The two main characters have everything to live for, but find their choices closing down, one after another, until the final but not incredible Liebestod.
on August 9, 2003
Reading these other reviews only leads me to think that their viewing was only superficial. This is really a marvelous work of ART, folks -- dark art, and two brilliant, startling performances by Rampling and Bogard. And remember, it is indeed based on A TRUE STORY. But as stylization is not trendy these days thanks to wearisome reality type films from Hollywood, what you get here is a stylized, artful portrayal of an inner hell, obsession, and shackles of the past....Those of you who think this just doesn't ring true, only need look at many marriages of today and past, where the husband beats the crap out of the wife who continually comes back for more.....not an easy film to sit through, but afterwards you will be unable to return to Hollywood. Be warned. Not for everyone, but if you like dark art or music, you're gonna slap your head on this one....I LOVE THIS MOVIE. Cinematic film as art, and as a powerful moving drama that will leave you on the floor in front of your TV gasping for air. And the bottle of whiskey.
on July 25, 2003
hmm. pouring over these reviews i must say, some very snippy hardcore film critics! i somtimes think a certain movie is totally mindblowing like joseph losey's "boom!", which many (including my gilrfriend!) consider campy and unwatchable. i loved that movie. i love the sensationalness of the "night porter." it is challenging, multi-layered and very entertaining. to get caught up in whether or not it is exploitation, or whether or not a thing like this could ever have really happened, is a big mistake.
of course it could really happen. all of those nazis running camps were humans, with the full amount of complexities that humans can have. no person is 100% saint or sinner. i view the holocaust in this movie as a backdrop for a strange love story. let's not forget that love can be destructive and most dysfunctional! she abandons her nice hubby for a nazi who tortured her. you're crazy if you think that's not realistic. that little plot turn happens in real life everyday the world over.
i think that critics of this film don't enjoy a celebration of life which includes very sordid idealogies. this film is a cross between "secretary" (which i hated) and "the pianist" (which was ok.) "the night porter is completely more enjoyable than those films. what a unique idea visualized. what great atmoshere and a great performances.
exploitation? i don't know. who defines these words anyway?
just go see it if you haven't yet and see for yourself. you have to like a bit bit of craziness and audacity to get anything out of this. this movie, up there with bogarde's "the servant" leave me feeling dirty and the end, and i like it!
they don't make em like they used to. can you imagine someone pitching a story like this to a producer today? good heavens!
on March 8, 2004
This is amazing.
Dark, dangerous, and totally evocative.
Anyone who has had this sort of obsessive, intense and real love/hate relationship will understand and identify with this film. It makes 'real' love look lifeless and lacklustre - and lets face it - they say love is worth dying for - well this kind is.
The relationship between the Nazi Officer and his prisoner puts me in mind of the realationship between Amon Goeth and Helen Hirsh in Schindlers List - only The Night Porter sees it through to its logical conclusion - such intensity could only end in death.
If you think youve ever been in love - then you need to watch this - you may may find the cosy domesticity you mistake for love is preferable. There arent many people who will admit to real love - as it is so tied up with hate and it is - like this film - deep dark and disturbing and cannot be escaped from.
Watch this film. It will make you very uncomfortable.
I for one will need to watch it many many times.
on June 22, 2003
This movie was a really big deal for me because it ther first R-rated movie I was able to see without being accompained by a guardian. I proudly showed my ID to prove I was old enough to join the art house movie going crowd on a Saturday night and entered the theater all proud and mature. After watching the movie, I left the theater depressed because the movie was so dark and gloomy with an ugly message on the state of humanity; I was also excited because I could tell my friends all the nasty, shocking things I had seen. Dirk Bogarde plays the night porter in a high class hotel in Vienna. Charlotte Rampling shows up looking stunningly beautiful and elegant. They recognize each other; he was an official in the Nazi party and she was a teenager in his concentration camp. They begin a depraved S & M affair while in the camp. When they find each other in the hotel, their sick relationship is rekindled and the depravity continues. Seeing it again years later the whole thing seems silly, depraved, and pretenious but still alot of fun.
Reviled at its release by sharks through their holier-than-thou articles/film critics, but influencing filmmakers like Jane Campion and Lars von Trier, "the Night Porter" offers an intriguing Stockholm Syndrome story. The ambiguous and masochistic love relationship between a Nazi official and Lucia, a Concentration Camp Prisoner imprisoned with her family because her father was a socialist, nothing about being Jewish as the film's attackers wrote in their articles. An affair that started in the war, but continues years later at Vienna in 1957, although a crucial movie poster identifies the story's timeline as 1960 (Error continuity from those who made the poster perhaps?). Now the wife of a famous orchestra conductor, Lucia's love story with Max continues as they meet in the Hotel where Max is now a Night Porter. However danger looms closer around them. Indeed, Max's former comrades become suspicious of their friend's behaviour. Ready to do anything to save their skins, ready to kill if necessary.
An ending I won't reveal to not ruin spectators' surprises.
A movie that still leaves an impression in your mind as the story ends.
Now of course lots of discussion were made on the movie's thematic being a horrible time period in history, about its appropriateness or not. But to me, I felt the story was a great way to study how the past still haunted War prisoners and about the guilt complexes of former War criminals and how if some of them are ready to deal with their past, others are just incapable to do so, at the point of becoming violent with anything that would endanger them. Not only that, it was a chance for us to have at least some empathy for a man, his demons and for his lover whose passion becomes dangerous, and to see another variation of a love story. The reality of a love developing between an assaillant and its victim, through games where they tease each other as the outside world soon starts attacking them. Not a classical romance, but an attempt to show something else, though not utopifying it like how Stephenie Meyer did with Twilight. Instead Cavani's story is realistic and more plausible to its denouement.
As an artist, Cavani's strengths are not in her acting directions as the actors' performances are sometimes irregular between each other (ex: the Bellboy with whom the countess Stein has an affair overacts in his few scenes and his dubbed voice is terrible). Instead her qualities occur through the tensions and moods she films, her german expresionism visuals, her camera skills, and her story. And with Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling, her work gains lots of point through their acting abilities. Indeed, they add human strengths where other actors who could be uncomfortable with the film's topic would have hurt the final product if they had played in Bogarde and Rampling's roles. In conclusion, Bogarde and Rampling leave to us the proof that they are both courageous and talented. In particular in a powerful scene where Lucia sings "Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte" in a Nazi outfit and bewitches other Nazi soldiers who listen to her. A scene that shocked many viewers and stands out as one of the most memorable moment in the movie, along with Max and Lucia's confrontation in the hotel room.
Of the film's 2K transfer, the end result is pretty good, although at the funeral of a main character, the image is blurry (film stock the film's transferers had at the time?) and there are still those very annoying dirts and hairs in certain scenes (ex: again that confrontation in the hotel room), which I wish the film's editors could have corrected. Nevertheless, the film is a pleasure to look again in HD, and the monaural sound is all right. As for the special features, Cavani's interview is really good to listen as she deals with her detractors with efficient arguments and so is her documentary on War Prisoners that helped her helm this film. But I wish we could have had a dialogue with Charlotte Rampling on the Night Porter as she's quite a fascinating and intelligent woman with relevant statements about her work, never saying cutsy-ditsy-poshy-Hollywood-game statements like how too many actresses and actors pull their interviews. Even better, it would have been nice to have the documentary called "the Private Bogarde". It's a great documentary that dives into the life and persona of a man who left quite a mark on filmmaking.
In the end, that movie is an impressionable piece of italian cinema, but also a nice film to watch if you are a fan of Lars von Trier and want to know about this movie that has had a major impact on his work.
on September 29, 2002
"The Night Porter" is a dark, melancholy film from a period of moviemaking in which audiences were more adult overall and more willing to accept offbeat subject matter. It was also a time when the world was ready to reflect on the horrors, as well as the possible causes, of the Nazi era. Today, "The Night Porter" may be a bit of a relic, but to anyone with knowledge of the impact Hitler and friends had on the civilian population of Europe, it should still prove to be powerful stuff.
It is 1957, and WWII has been over for a dozen years. People like Maximillian [Dirk Borgarde], who was a proud Nazi officer in a concentration camp, have melted into the general population. Investigations continue, however, and Max and his old buddies are still in danger of being tried for war crimes. They are constantly on the lookout for people who might be witnesses against them. Their policy is to "File them away" whenever possible. Lucia [Charlotte Rampling] has also tried to lead a normal life. Married to a famous conductor, she has been traveling in Europe with him. In a fashionable Vienna hotel, her life comes to a crashing halt because that is where she once more encounters Max, the man who took her as his lover when she was a war prisoner and involved her in all sorts of unspeakable acts. When her husband moves on to the next city, Lucia stays behind. She again becomes Max's lover, and the movie moves on to its inevitable and tragic conclusion. Why she takes up again with such a sick man is up to the viewer to decide. To me, it is not as absurd as it might at first appear to be.
The stunningly beautiful and remarkable Rampling gives one of her greatest performances as Lucia. She is an actress who knows how to speak volumes when she is silent. [Yes, she is one of my favorites.] The late Dirk Borgarde is very good as Max. Other fine Rampling films include "Georgy Girl", "The Damned", Wings of the Dove" and "Great Expectations". Borgarde starred in a number of classic movies in the 1960s and 1970s. Among these are "Victim", "The Servant". "Accident". "Death in Venice" and "Darling".
on May 9, 2002
After first watching this film I agreed with one of the previous reviewers who stated that it was a curious addition to the Criterion Collection, not quite up to the artistic standard. But since my viewing, several weeks ago, I have been unable to go a day without contemplating it's cinematic portrayal of the more perverse aspects of the relationship between the porter and his former victim.
Portraying the Holocaust is no easy matter (duh). However, Night Porter is a bold attempt to convert the seemier perversity in an operatic manner. I'm not a survivor so can't come close to fathoming that experience, and I very much doubt that the situation depicted ever occured, but it is an expressionist portrayal into the workings between victim and persecutor and the sickening manipulation, whether intentional or not, between the two. I've heard stories of young camp guards falling in love with inmates (and the tragic results: her immediate termination; his transfer to colder regions) and this is a dramatic portrayal of such a relationship with Dirk Bogarde playing someone who was most likely demented prior to his employment at the camp. And this leads to another interesting consideration: patients running the madhouse. Every society has it's sadists/sociopaths. It's devastating to consider the Nazi's collecting these individuals and giving them unchallenged authority over their victims, encouraging ever more creative manner of carrying out their wildest most brutal fantasies.
No, Night Porter is neither a sharp historical document nor a cheerful film with a happy ending. It is, however, a bit of cinema that should provoke some thought. And, it is nicely filmed with a wonderfully maintained pace. Watch the use of night vs. day in the underworld activities of the "deactivated" nazis.
As to the DVD itself: nice transfer picturewise, but quite hissy soundwise. No extras to speak of, which is disappointing, as given the controversy that accompanied it's release it would be nice to see some contemporary reviews or protests.
on February 15, 2002
Don't expect a REVIEW of the story in the following comment:
For those who LOVED this movie while viewing it on video in the early 80s, your in for a treat with this Criterion Collection transfer. The color/contrast/sharpness makes it look almost brand new ! And the 'bleakness' of the film shines through.
That being said, did this movie REALLY need to be a part of Criterion's library ? Is it THAT good ??? Or did I just miss something ???
What starts off as a straight post WWII drama, fades into a pretensious romantic (??) kinky (for its time) character study of two people that have gone over the edge.
Unintentional sillines and manerisms kind of date this film - but it is lovely to look at - and the characters are interesting...But do we REALLY care about either one of them ??? I certainly didn't...And the bleak ending was not as depressing as it wanted to be - but it does leave you feeling empty.
I honestly think Criterion made this film more enjoyable than what it really is....GREAT job guys !