The Night Porter

The Night Porter ★★★½

Very controversial in its time (but not particularly shocking in the explicit sense) erotic psychological drama, directed by Liliana Cavani, who had a background in documentary film-making.
In Vienna in 1957 former SS concentration camp officer Max (Dirk Bogarde) is hiding out and trying to keep a low profile as a night porter in the Hotel Zur Oper. He's still in touch with a group of ex-colleagues, who still believe in the cause, but whose main purpose is to determine how 'safe' each of them are from identification and prosecution. It's Max's turn to have his case looked at and it is thought there are no living witnesses to his crimes, when into the hotel walks Lucia (Charlotte Rampling), a survivor from the camp whom Max had tortured and forced into a sadomasochistic relationship. He's initially extremely concerned but when he confronts her they fall back into the same damaged relationship they had in the camp, with Lucia displaying signs of what we would now call Stockholm Syndrome. This relationship, however, is going to bring him into conflict with his Nazi colleagues.
A seventies European art house film that has been derided over the years as Nazisploitation or Nazi porn, but also praised as a brave psychological study of doomed 'romantic love'. Either way the performances of the two stars are universally lauded.
For me it's an anti-fascist film that acknowledges the massive effect that period had on the psyches of the people of Europe, including those on the side of the Nazis. Cavani stated that she got the idea for the story while interviewing two women for her documentary 'Women of the Resistance' about their experiences in the Nazi death camps.
The film looks good, if a little drab, in a 2018 restoration, as we see the contemporary events intercut with flashbacks to the horrendous events in the camp. The narrative does tail off in the third act when Max and Lucia are holed up in Max's flat running out of food.
It will be interesting to hear how a new modern day audience react to the film, but I expect they will find it problematic.
Watched on BFI player.

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