The Night Porter (DVD, 1999, Criterion Collection) Reviews
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The Night Porter (DVD, 1999, Criterion Collection)

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Singing Marlene Dietrich in German While Wearing Nazi Uniform, KINKY!

Dec 10, 2004
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Cavani's Direction, Score, Look, Cast, Bogarde, & Rampling.

Cons:Slow Pacing, Lack of Background Info, & Disturbing Behaviors.

The Bottom Line: "The Night Porter" is a Fine, Compelling Film from Liliana Cavani with Eerie Performances from Dick Bogarde & Charlotte Rampling. (3.5 out of 5)

After the breakthrough of Bernardo Bertolucci's 1972 art-house erotica masterpiece Last Tango in Paris, a new era of sex films have arrived along with a new wave of post-neo-realism Italian filmmakers. One of the newer filmmakers arriving from that scene is Liliana Cavani, who released a more provocative erotic film in 1974. Set in 1957 Vienna, a former Nazi officer working as a hotel night porter comes across an old concentration camp prisoner with whom he had a sadomasochistic affair with back in World War II. Based on the novel by Barbara Alberti, Il Portiere di Notte (The Night Porter) is perverse, strange love story from the mind of Cavani with a strong cast that includes Charlotte Rampling, Dick Bogarde, Philippe Leroy, Gabriele Ferzetti, and Isa Miranda.

It's 1957 Vienna as a man named Max (Dick Bogarde) is doing his usual night routine as a hotel night porter where he tells stories with a countess (Isa Miranda) and a gigolo. Working with a day porter (Piero Vida), Max is awaiting the days of an upcoming trial for himself and fellow Nazi officers. Max knows he's done wrong for all of those years since World War II and is trying to clear his conscience until one night, he comes across an old prisoner he had not seen in 13 years named Lucia (Charlotte Rampling). Lucia is now married to an American classical composer currently on tour in Europe. Lucia catches a glimpse of Max and both of them endure bad memories. Max turns to his former fellow officer Klaus (Philippe Leroy), who was also a ballet dancer for the Nazi officers.

Lucia remains haunted as she remembers her days being captured where she and Max used to have a strange, sadomasochist relationship that involved having sex with each other in perverse ways. With her husband leaving for Frankfurt, Lucia chooses to stay behind. Max meanwhile, meets with a former superior in Hans (Gabriele Ferzetti) who learns that Lucia is in the hotel Max is working in and they must kill before she would be chosen to testify against them. Max isn't sure what damage she might cause since he's become more emotionally conflicted when one night, he comes into her room to confront her where the two rekindle their strange love affair.

Lucia hides in Max's apartment where Max learns that a fellow friend had been killed with him as the main suspect. Klaus and Hans confront Max while they want to know the whereabouts of Lucia. Max chooses to evade them while he and Lucia continue their quiet, sadomasochist affair. One night with Max working in his job, Hans breaks into Max's apartment to try to talk to Lucia, who has become evasive towards him. Max meanwhile talks to the Countess about his old affair and during one day when she sang in German in a Nazi uniform, he gave her a strange present calling her his little girl. Max returns to the apartment where he learned that Hans was in the room as he and Lucia hide. After a failed assassination attempt, Max isn't sure if he wants to turn himself in to the authorities and remain loyal to his Nazi regiment. All he knows is he wants to make sure Lucia is safe.

Though the film's major flaw is in its pacing due to Cavani's script that she co-adapted with Italo Moscati, Il Portiere di Notte remains one of the more memorable films of 1970s European cinema. Thanks to Cavani's restrained directing style, the film has a sense of complexity and morality along with strange elements of sadomasochism that might be considered to be perverse. The only thing the restrained directing style fails from is the fact for the film to move faster. Then again, the writing and character study of the film's script emphasizes on the slow momentum for its central characters to reunite and relive their own troubled pasts. Though some might feel that Max is let off too easy for his crimes, this is a man who knows he's done wrong and wants to live his life yet when he reunites with Lucia, we see a chance for him to redeem himself despite his strange relationship with her. It's really overall a complex story with a lot of mind games and character study.

Channeling that ominous tone of the film in its look is the dreamy, evocative cinematography of Alfo Contini for its shade of blue in some scenes while the flashback scenes are done in a more grainy way with heightened colors to give a strange, idiosyncratic tone. With a desolated look in the camp scenes from production designer Dante Ferretti and art directors Nedo Azzini and Jean-Marie Simon, the film has a strange contrast look to the bleak scenes of the Holocaust to the more enriching look of 1957 Vienna. With some nice editing work from Last Tango in Paris co-writer and longtime Bertolucci collaborator Franco Arcalli, the film moves well despite its slow-paced directing tone. Even the melancholic music of Daniele Paris gives the film a strange sense of doom and sadness throughout the film while the music's tone changes in a strange scene of Rampling in the Nazi uniform singing a Marlene Dietrich song in German.

The film's strong cast is filled with some great performances, notably the supporting cast that included Philippe Leroy as Klaus, who stands out with his ballet work along with Gabriele Ferzetti as the diabolical Hans. Isa Miranda also stands out in the role of the countess whose love for stories and imagination seems to fulfill her empty, elegant lifestyle. Dick Bogarde is excellent in his portrayal as the tortured and emotionally anguished role of Max although his character could've been better written for more of his background and how he ended up becoming a night porter after World War II. The film's best performance easily goes to Charlotte Rampling with her quiet, understated performance where throughout most of the film, she really has no dialogue while she uses her face and body language to convey a haunting performance. Rampling also oozes with sexiness in her disturbing yet whimsical sex scenes with Bogarde while she proves to be very engaging with just her eyes.

Thirty years later since its initial release back in 1974 and a recent DVD release from Criterion that features the film's original subtitled release, Il Portiere di Notte remains an uneasy yet ominous film from Liliana Cavani. Though panned in the U.S. in its release and widely praised in Europe, the film has grown into a cult classic with Cavani recently getting acclaim for her 2002 film Ripley's Game with John Malkovich while Charlotte Rampling is enjoying a career resurrection with her collaboration with French director Francois Ozon with their most recent international hit Swimming Pool in 2003. Though not for everyone, Il Portiere di Notte is a film that will shock and question the mind of sex and emotions.

Related Reviews:

The Conformist (1970):

Last Tango in Paris (1972):

Under the Sand (2000):

Swimming Pool (2003):

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Liliana Cavani's controversial film featured a breakout performance by theAmerican actress Charlotte Rampling in this Italian tour de force. Thirteen ...
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