Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Night Porter

Liliani Cavani, Italy, 1974 (8.3*)
Il portiere di notte

[in English]
Memorial Day War-a-thon #5

This film deals with the dark side of human sexuality, one which grew out of a twisted relationship during World War II, so it's also a metaphor for the dark side of society itself. People may appear normal on the outside, but..

Charlotte Rampling plays Lucia, a concentration camp survivor who, twelve years later and now married to a famous orchestra conductor, meets her former captor Maximilian by chance, when they check into a Viennese hotel he is the night porter there. Dirk Bogarde turns in one of his most riveting performances as the night clerk, a man nonchalant and passionless on the outside, but who releases a torrent of sadomasochistic eroticicm when alone with Charlotte, as she is all too willing to continue what was started in the camp, when she was the teenage victim of s/m sex experiments with Bogarde. Apparently her present life, even though affluent and safe, isn't as passionate nor as fulfilling as her prior one.

This is the most interesting aspect of the story, the long term psychological ramifications of those surviving traumatic experiences, and those who become bonded to their captors. In one regard, since this relationship became necessary for Maximilian as well, it kept Lucia alive through the war, so he saved her life, even if as his sex slave. Bogarde still meets with other former camp officers in the present day, to discuss surviving in the present society and remaining anonymous, so their shared memories remain alive through the group.

Caviani did a good job of making all this complexity understandable, if not sympathetic. The films weakness is not making us care what happens to these characters; they seem self-absorbed and uninterested in normal society, likely as a result of surviving the camp. The films strong point is that it shows how dysfunctional society itself can be in creating people like this, how it's possible for personal demons to prevent people from change, and how their unchecked obsessions can consume the soul.

Some dismissed this as sensationalism, I found it a chilling expose of the dark side of the Nazi psyche, the need to control people totally, only deriving pleasure from inflicting pain.This film made Rampling an international star, but it wasn't until the recent Under the Sand that she lived up to her dramatic potential. In this film, a woman's longtime husband swims in the ocean while she naps on the beach, and after awakening finds that her husband has disappeared.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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