Liliana Cavani’s 1973 film The Night Porter has certainly divided audiences and critics alike over the years. Its controversial themes and subject matter have seen the film be painted as tasteless, exploitative and having no artistic merit other than to shock. The Night Porter along with Salo treads a fine line between quality Arthouse cinema and Exploitation and it depends on the viewer’s tastes and sensibilities where the film lies. After reading about the film over the years I was curious to see where I stood on the matter and more importantly whether or not The Night Porter was the classic piece of cinema many have claimed it to be.
For those unfamiliar with the storyline, The Night Porter concerns itself with a concentration camp survivor Lucia (Charlotte Rampling) who discovers her former captor Maximillian (Dirk Bogarde) working as a night porter while visiting Vienna. Initially Lucia is disturbed by his presence but before long she confronts him and the two pick up their sado-masochistic relationship once again. Once word gets out amongst Maximillian’s comrades the pair become targeted by the former Nazi sleeper cell who are out to eliminate those who were witness to their war crimes.
To be honest I wasn’t completely blown away by the film like a lot of people seem to be but I found it a beautifully shot, twisted and ultimately bleak love-story that was definitely worth my time. I think this film will grow on me with repeated viewings because there is a lot you can interpret from it and thematically there’s a lot going on in it. The Night Porter is not some Euro-trash-Nazi-exploitation-flick like critics like Roger Ebert have stated, but a dark descent into the human condition exploring themes of domination, love and guilt and the psychological factors driving it. On another level The Night Porter explores how the impact of war leaves indelible effects and consequences. Pretty heady stuff really and it escapes me how people haven’t seen past some of the gratuitous elements of the film to see the bigger picture.
Films like this a really few and far between these days and perhaps what I found most interesting about it was how it broke the mould of the traditional love story delivering something much more challenging and thought provoking. An undeniably important piece of cinema that serious film buffs owe it themselves to see at least once.
This disc from Umbrella has zero extras which really makes this local release fairly pointless when you can get an import copy for around half the price. The Night Porter is a film that needs a few extras thrown in to illustrate its historical context and intentions especially considering how demonised the film’s been in the past. Personally I’d wait for this disc to come down in price because it’s not really worth the $20 price tag and is one of the more shoddy editions of the film. It’s a shame Umbrella’s releases are largely hit and miss these days they used to be one of the best companies for local releases of Cult and Arthouse cinema. Another poorly authored disc (you don’t even get a menu) that’s best left for the cheap bins or a rental. Disappointing to say the least.
Available on RO DVD from Umbrella Entertainment.