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Fifteen year after the end of the Second World War, Lucia Atherton is visiting the city of Vienna, with her conductor husband. When they check into the hotel she instantly recognises Maximilian Theo Aldorfer, the night porter, as the Nazi officer who had raped and sexually used her whilst she was in a concentration camp. Against her will she agrees with her husband to stay for a few days, but the pull of their past relationship draws Lucia and Max into another destructive relationship...
The Night Porter (1974 - 1 hr, 58 min, 06 sec) is an infamous psychological thriller, directed by Liliana Cavani, which at the time of its release was reviled as much as it was applauded. Nazi chic sadomasochism was always going to be a hard sell.
The narrative of the film is slight as the focus of the movie is on the main protagonist’s relationship, both in the present and via flashback during their time in the concentration camp where he was an officer. In a world where Fifty Shades of Grey holds the top three bestseller spots it’s hard to know what all the fuss was about.
There is sexual imagery, but not as much as you would expect and it never feels gratuitous. There is, however, a lot of sadistic power play between the characters with Lucia taking a submissive role. The main point that appears to disconcerted people is that Lucia appears to not only acquiesce to this role, but actually to seek it out when they meet again.
Both Charlotte Rampling (Lucia) and Dirk Bogarde (Max) turn in very powerful performances as two people trapped by both the present and their shared past. The present is very different. Here Max’s surviving Nazi comrades regard their relationship as a threat, especially as Lucia can act as a witness to what happened in the camps. Max and Lucia become virtual prisoners in their room, their physical relationship spiraling into madness until they attempt to make an escape across the Danube.
The film has the original 2.0 stereo audio track, as well as a newer 5.1 DTS - HD Master audio track. Unfortunately, there are no extras on the disc. The quality of the print is as near to perfect as you could expect for a film of this age, there is noticeable grain, but this would have been present in the original print.
Given that this film was reviled for showing a sadomasochistic relationship, it’s odd that the very similar and much more sexually explicit In the Realm of the Senses (1976) is held in high regard, nor does it feel as voyeuristic as Salon Kitty (1976). The film is certainly no classic. Although its themes are challenging the final film is a good example of quality cinema.