Review: The Night Porter
Set in post-WW2 Vienna, Dirk Bogarde plays the fastidious night porter at a hotel and a former SS officer. He occasionally meets with other former officers (Gabriele Ferzetti among them) to talk about issues of guilt in quasi-psychoanalysis sessions, and hunt down any possible Holocaust survivors as the date of an upcoming trial for Bogarde draws closer. Bogarde just wants to be left alone to do his quaint little job and live a modest life, trying his best to forget about his horrid past (of which he appears to be extremely tormented by, if not quite ashamed of). Complications arise when he locks eyes with a bewitching new resident, Charlotte Rampling, who just so happens to be the young concentration camp Bogarde used to abuse during the war. However, when Rampling quickly dismisses her musician husband to reconnect with Bogarde in a kinky S&M relationship, it becomes clear that...well, things aren’t as clear as one first thought. Meanwhile, Bogarde’s cronies soon find out about Rampling’s identity and want something to be done about the ‘problem’. Bogarde, of course, finds it highly unlikely that Rampling would ever testify against her, but obviously can’t tell Ferzetti about their strange, ‘forbidden’ relationship, either. Isa Miranda turns up as one of the hotel guests, an aging countess.
I don’t offend easily, but this controversial 1974 piece of garbage masquerading as art crossed just about every line of decency I can think of. Directed and co-written by Liliana Cavani (“Francis of Assisi”, “Ripley’s Game”), it’s basically “Ilsa”-esque Nazisploitation material, except it has the gall to take itself most seriously. At least with trash that only wants to be trash, one doesn’t have the stench of pretension to contend with. This film reveals its trash roots in a scene where Rampling performs at a nightclub in Nazi gear, supposedly to titillate. It’s at that point that Cavani proves herself dishonest. I’m not much of a Nazisploitation kinda guy, but at least those films didn’t try to pretend to be something they weren’t.
To be honest, I can’t for the life of me work out what the point of all this was, thus it doesn’t earn the right to tackle the historical/tragic subject matter it deals with I felt there was no need to take what is basically an S&M relationship and relate it to the Holocaust. It’s just grossly inoffensive and unnecessary. Even if these sort of submissive/dominant relationships did exist between Nazis and concentration camp prisoners, I can’t imagine the events depicted in this film are anywhere near reality. I can perhaps see a Nazi and a Jewish woman falling in love (apparently it did happen from time to time) in a more traditional relationship, but S&M? Hell no. Save that for the exploitation films where reality isn’t remotely a concern.
In particular, the enthusiasm, compliance, and ultimate power held by the Rampling character does not seem plausible to me at all in a Holocaust context. Just make it about S&M, or just a romance between a Nazi and his Jewish former prisoner. It still might not be a good film, but at least it wouldn’t be quite as offensive. As is, it’s not even worth seeing once as a curio, nor is it enjoyable in a bad movie way. It’s a foul film, one of the very worst I’ve ever seen (though many do praise it for Jebus knows what reason), despite the fact that it’s got perfectly fine performances, notably by the respectable Dirk Bogarde and the underrated Gabriele Ferzetti.
Even the content outside of the central relationship is ridiculous, with the loopy hotel guests, and a poorly thought out subplot (that eventually bleeds into the main narrative) involving Bogarde’s fellow former Nazi brass staging mock trials to rid themselves of any physical or psychological guilt issues (or something like that...I think). The film’s finale is particularly appalling as Cavani and co-writer Italo Moscati seem to be aiming for cruel irony as Bogarde (and Rampling) find themselves hunted down, imprisoned, and ultimately meeting a cruel, malnourished end. Pretty rank, to be honest, and does Cavani want us to sympathise with a murderer and abuser simply because he kinda sorta feels bad about it and has fallen in love? Fuck off.
A shameful film that should probably never be seen, and I say that as someone who deplores banning films and stringent censorship (Not that the film is as graphic as some other ‘controversial’ films out there). This piece of shit isn’t worth championing, it should rather be forgotten. I’m sure that the film’s admirers will tell me I’m totally overreacting, but even if the element of the Holocaust were removed (or kept in and have the S&M aspect removed instead) this film simply wouldn’t interest me at all.