The Night Porter

There are many movies about World War 2, but few deal with its aftermath in such a strange way as The Night Porter. This intentionally slow drama explores the decadence and aftermath of Nazi Germany -- and its impact on two very different people.

In Vienna 1957 Max (Dirk Bogarde) has a job as a night porter at a hotel. He cleans up after people, sees to the needs of the guests, keeps after the staff, and generally behaves as a minor bureaucrat at a small job.

Max has a past, though: He was a Nazi commander at a concentration camp. Max's circle of acquaintances is made up of fellow Nazis in hiding, and they're preparing a "war crimes" trial for Max: Klaus (Phillippe Leroy) will act as prosecutor, they will present all the evidence against him -- and then destroy it. Hans (Gabriele Ferzetti) is a psychiatrist who sees this as theraupeutic, a way to leave the guilt behind. The decadent Bert (Amedeo Amodio), a Nazi ballet dancer with a crush on Max, tells him to embrace the trial. Max just wants to be left alone, but he's cautioned that not only are documents dangerous, but as little as one witness could expose him.

And such a witness appears. Lucia (Charlotte Rampling) is travelling with her husband, a conductor, and they check into Max's hotel. Lucia was a prisoner under Max, and they recognize each other immediately. However, at the concentration camp they began a sadomasochistic affair -- and after some initial trepidation on both their parts, Max and Lucia resume their affair in the present. Max fears that if the other Nazis discover Lucia;s role in his past they'll kill her, while Lucia represents a link that could expose them all.

The Night Porter is not a sensationalistic movie (despite the titillating poster) but rather an examination of the consequences of the war on people. Max went from being in command to a minor hotel employee, and resuming his affair with Lucia returns some of that power to him, despite the dangers. Lucia is haunted by what happened to her, but she is as drawn to it as she was in the past. Vienna is a bleak place, with the war present from the Nazis who create their own community while hiding to the people who don't want to get involved and risk their war pensions.

Director Liliana Cavani handles the material with a neutral touch, neither praising nor damning these characters forced together by their shared past. Dirk Bogarde makes Max a thoroughly neutral character, someone neither proud or ashamed of his past and seizing little opportunities of power where he can find them. Charlotte Rampling is excellent as a woman who doesn't question why she'd drawn back to such a destructive person, and the rest of the cast performs well.

The Night Porter may be a bit deliberate in its pacing, but this results in a drama that is original and thought provoking.

Overall grade: B+

Reviewed by James Lynch

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