Director: Liliana Cavani Year of Release: 1974 Running Time: 118 min
The Night Porter is a polarizing picture; a steamy, noirish potboiler set against the horrors of the holocaust. To be more precise, the affects the holocaust had on those directly involved; both the victims and the tormentors. The film is set in Vienna more than a decade after the end of WWII. A Jewish woman who survived the concentration camps by carrying on a sadomasochist relationship with a SS officer is now touring Europe with her successful husband. The couple stop at a sleepy hotel and the woman is horrified to discover the hotel porter is none other than the SS officer who abused her. It seems the hotel is a meeting place for a group of fugitive Nazi officers who scheme to have records(and witnesses) of their crimes erased. In this hostile environment, the two damaged souls resume their warped relationship and begin a headfirst plunge into self-destruction.
After watching The Night Porter, you will likely be divided into two camps; the first sees this movie has a complex, challenging look at the darker aspects of human nature and sexuality as well as the lifelong suffering of such traumatic events like the holocaust inflict on their survivors. To the second, this is a exploitation picture that disguises itself with the guise of a arthouse film and crudely uses a truly horrific moment in history as a gimmick or for a chic aesthetic. Both are valid view points. As for myself, I thought The Night Porter tried to examine some weighty issues, but did so largely unsuccessfully, it bites off a bit more than it can chew and as a result it comes across as somewhat exploitative to its subject matter. Well artfully made and sometimes thought provoking, the Night Porter is also poorly dated and dreary, and in the end doesn't rise to meet it lofty ambitions, leaving a rather sour taste in ones mouth.
Available on DVD form the Criterion Collection