English Title: The Night Porter
Original Title: Il portiere di notte
Director: Liliana Cavani
Music: Daniele Paris
Cinematography: Alfio Contini
THE NIGHT PORTER, is a doomed love story in its kernel while being notorious for its sadomasochistic exploitation between not any random two, but Max (Bogarde), a former Nazi SS officer and Lucia (Rampling), his prisoner in the concentration camp. It is such a campy plot design, blatantly excites for controversy. Directed by the Italian arthouse cult-director Liliana Cavani, my very first foray into her filmography, what sticks in my mind after watching is not the sensational perverseness of the sex act, but a tenacious nihilism animated by those two equally impenetrable characters, with the most passive and futile resistance, it is a fearless scenario of two against the whole world, nothing else matters, as long as they can march toward their grim fate together, no compromise or whatsoever, which is intensely heart-rending.
Vienna 1957, 13 years after WWII, Max now is a hotel’s night porter, and by a mere chance, Lucia and her husband, an orchestra conductor come to perform in the city and stay in the same hotel. This unexpected encounter stirs memory flashbacks in both and instigated by Mozart’s MAGIC FLUTE, which is conducted by Lucia’s husband, their mutual longing reaches the boiling point, the sadomasochistic torment (more spiritually than physically) which generates the irresistible pleasure, reunites them, Lucia leaves her husband and moves into Max’s cramped apartment, even voluntarily being chained inside, if that’s so, as long as everything is consensual, they might be the happiest couple in the world. However, Max is an ex-Bazi officer, and is currently involved with a coterie of former SS comrades, lead by Hans (Ferzetti), they are intent on destroying any documents and dispatching all the possible surviving witnesses in order to clear their names so that they can live in peace. So, when they find out Lucia’s presence, both her and Max’s lives are at critical stake.
Well, one major drawback in the plot is the elliptical motivations of the coterie, on the surface, they arrange a certain trial of its members individually, yet, an ultimate purpose is to eliminate all the evidences associated in the war crime (as Max mercilessly murdered one of his witness, we can only hear the voiceovers playing while on screen it is Max in his apartment, disconcerted), so why on earth they need such a trial? Some kind of remedial therapy? Moreover, in the scenes where Hans faces Lucia alone in the apartment, obviously, it is much easier to whisk her away or simply finish her off, so she will no longer be a threat, but instead, Hans painstakingly wheedles her to be the witness in the so-called trial against Max, which is rather perplexing.
From then on, the narrative steers towards the hungry strike in a claustrophobic status, aimlessly hemmed in the apartment, Max and Lucia indulge in their memories, haunted by their memories and can only get excited through their memories, complete devoid of any political agenda, it is a battle between human’s primal sex impulse and basic desire to survive. Ms. Rampling is renown for taking unorthodox projects and braving challenging roles, here, apart from her strikingly alluring solo-dancing scenes among Nazi officers, which doesn’t connect the story necessarily, instead impairing her vulnerable status as a powerless victim, indeed is a hyped gambit to be shamelessly titillating and contentious. She compellingly conveys Lucia’s abstruse psyche through her expressive facial expressions and body languages; Bogarde, symmetrically excellent in veiling Max’s complex lust with a chilling sophistication, both can be gauged as the top-picks of their eclectic careers.
Shot in lurid Technicolor in 35mm, THE NIGHT PORTER is unequivocally Cavani’s most popular work and fairly speaking, it is a singular curio might find audience among those who are not feeble-minded and vacant from all the political innuendos, also one has to accept that it doesn’t conform to the formula where in the upshot, those loathsome wrongdoers never get their comeuppance.