59 The Night Porter

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
Message
Author
User avatar
ellipsis7
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 1:56 pm
Location: Dublin

Re: 59 The Night Porter

#26 Post by ellipsis7 » Tue Sep 16, 2014 4:50 pm

zedz wrote:This is a dreadfully dated film, and I suspected it wasn't much cop even at the time of release, but the documentary they've added to the reissue looks about ten times more interesting than the feature, so I'll probably pick it up.
I was about to pass on this, then the documentary was the persuader to reconsider, indeed seems really important in itself and also contextualisation for the feature, plus Cavani's THE CANNIBALS/ I CANNIBALI from Raro USA on BR did engage me... I actually saw NIGHT PORTER on original theatrical release and it was not something I immediately wanted to see again, but like Zedz the docu seems essential viewing...

User avatar
djproject
Joined: Sat Oct 09, 2010 3:41 pm
Location: Framingham, MA
Contact:

Re: 59 The Night Porter

#27 Post by djproject » Thu Sep 18, 2014 7:36 am

Honestly, this film has been a frustrating one for me. It's been frustrating because it's very difficult to gauge exactly what it was trying to say or do.

(This was one of my earlier Criterion purchases and I couldn't remember for the life of me why I decided to take the plunge in the end. Though maybe the answer lies somewhere in what I'm about to say).

I know that it's not a "Nazi-ploitation film", which were a plenty at around the time The Night Porter was made, as it doesn't scream "sensationalist" or using Nazi aspects as kitsch. Similarly, I didn't think of this as an exploitative film in general (though given the Holocaust backstory, it's easy to assume it). While I could use the word "provocative", it's not enfant terrible "provocative" where it's just there to piss off (troll if you want to be nicer about it) an audience. Until I see the supplements that will come with the Blu-ray/DVD reissue, the best answer I have - given Cavani's other films - is this was Cavani's own thought experiment about a reported encounter she had with someone who was visiting Auschwitz: a former prisoner remembering her SS officer-lover.

Personally, I found the most dysfunctional and damaging relationship Max had is with his former Nazi colleagues. In a way, they were a microcosm of the Nazi group mentality: a slavish and fanatical devotion to a set of ideals and the rest are just secondary details. What made them both laughable and dangerous at the same time is that they are still devoted to that ideal long after the war ended. So you have a fixation with an idealized past as well as an idea. Max, in the end, had no interest in it and therefore wanted no part of it. (Of course, what his replacement was was no better for him or anyone else for that matter. But that's another issue.)

What I do find interesting is that the story wasn't contemporary to its production. It definitely explains the concern Max's friends had with being spotted as the wounds of war were still fresh and there was always the potential for someone to spot them and try bringing to some kind of trial (this was before the Eichmann capture and the whole Nazi hunter thing). But I think it also explains why Max's relationship with Lucia could be easily rekindled.

I think the biggest flaw is that the characters were not as fully developed as they could have been. The thing that bugged me in the few times I've seen it is why Lucia's rekindled interest. I could probably surmised that it was an opportunity to do onto him what once happened onto her (power shifts on many levels). But it seem odd to just leave her husband - who was treated as a kind of disposable love interest in the end - and pursue this domineering relationship with her once SS officer guard.

When it's all said and done, I think this can be best described as a perverse and flawed melodrama. It had some interesting ideas and concepts but was never fully explored. And furthermore, its penchant for obscurity makes it difficult for an audience to know what to make of it (and yes, I can see that that uneasiness and subversive quality is what makes it appealing for some ... I know a few people who swear by this film as their all-time favourite.)

User avatar
colinr0380
Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK

Re: 59 The Night Porter

#28 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Sep 18, 2014 10:13 am

That is a great assessment of the film. Although I love it because of that obscurity - for the compulsion of desire even over ideology, though ideology taints desire. The flashes of traumatised memory against the sordid contemporary reality. The lives of victim and torturer ever intertwined in a dance of twisted mutual dependence.

I think my favourite scene of the film has to be the ballet scene to Dance of the Furies in which we get a performance in front of jaded officers (or ex-officers) co-opting the beauty of artistic expression, and corrupting it at the same time.

criterion10
Joined: Fri Mar 02, 2012 4:19 pm

Re: 59 The Night Porter

#29 Post by criterion10 » Fri Sep 19, 2014 12:04 am

I wasn't planning to watch this anytime soon, but after Criterion announced their reissue a few days ago, I thought it would be the right time to finally check it out. (It certainly makes for an interesting double-billing with The Damned, which I watched recently as well.)

Anyways, the film as a whole is all over the place and a bit of a mess. I was rolling with it for the first hour or so, but once Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling lock themselves in their apartment, the film goes all downhill, becoming more and more ridiculous by the minute.
SpoilerShow
Seriously, why didn't Bogarde's comrades just bolt inside his apartment and shoot them him and Rampling dead? Did they really have to sit around waiting until they left the house?
From the film's very beginning, it also never really gives itself over entirely to its concept. For all the controversy surrounding the film and themes/topics it addresses, it's rather tame. All I could think of was something like Haneke's The Piano Teacher, and how that film's sadomasochistic relationship is so much more realistic, visceral, and disturbing. Plus, it's at least a well-developed film, while this is not (by the end of The Night Porter, there is little that the film had to say that was not already addressed by the beginning).

There are some good moments scattered throughout, mainly most of the Holocaust flashbacks, which have a sort of dreamy, surreal vibe that makes them look like something out of a Buñuel film, as opposed to a more realistic film about the event. Bogarde also gives a great performance, and Cavani's depiction of a group of ex-Nazis willing to just their past actions and defend their future is an idea/topic that could justify its own film in and of itself.

Also, while I won't comment on the quality of the now OOP Criterion DVD (which is indeed dreadful), the screencaps on Blu-Ray.com of the UK Blu-Ray present an absolutely awful color palate that, if correct, would render the film one of the most visually unappealing I have ever laid eyes on.

User avatar
Minkin
Joined: Thu Aug 06, 2009 11:13 pm

Re: 59 The Night Porter

#30 Post by Minkin » Tue Nov 18, 2014 11:24 pm

Bluray.com
color + transfer + audio + extras + cover :P improved over the UK edition.

User avatar
EddieLarkin
Joined: Sat Sep 08, 2012 10:25 am

Re: 59 The Night Porter

#31 Post by EddieLarkin » Sat Nov 22, 2014 6:51 pm

Beaver (NSFW. Yes, really).

It really is far superior to the UK Blu-ray. I knew I was doing the right thing holding off.

User avatar
AtlantaFella
Joined: Tue Nov 25, 2008 11:19 pm

Re: 59 The Night Porter

#32 Post by AtlantaFella » Sun Dec 14, 2014 11:31 pm

Man, the PQ of the Hulu Plus version of this film is embarrassingly awful. I'm surprised they didn't add surrounding black bars to simulate a non-anamorphic experience. They should remove the BD artwork from the service post-haste.

User avatar
AtlantaFella
Joined: Tue Nov 25, 2008 11:19 pm

Re: 59 The Night Porter

#33 Post by AtlantaFella » Tue Dec 16, 2014 12:15 am

... and I should add that this is not one I'm interested in revisiting. If you are going to dabble in the inkwell of Holocaust experience and imagery, particularly for erotic effect, this best be in the service of some profound (or at least thought-provoking) thematic structure.

I find the lazy exploitation in this film much more revolting than something like Salo, which is more shocking on its surface but has volumes more to say.

User avatar
ellipsis7
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 1:56 pm
Location: Dublin

Re: 59 The Night Porter

#34 Post by ellipsis7 » Sat Dec 20, 2014 7:18 am

As I suspected with the appended documentary, this has proved a fascinating revisit, especially in the broader context of Cavani's complete filmmaking career...

A timely interview on her own life and films with Charlotte Rampling published in today's Guardian magazine...

User avatar
colinr0380
Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK

Re: 59 The Night Porter

#35 Post by colinr0380 » Sun Jul 05, 2015 11:11 am

I watched this again yesterday evening , so thought I'd have another go at writing about it! It's a fascinating, troubling, difficult to like film in the tradition of Luchino Visconti's films (particularly The Damned, but also the death wish just for the chance to die in the presence of beauty of Death In Venice. Though it is interesting to hear in Cavani's interview that she doesn't think much of Visconti's film!) about a compulsive relationship begun under the Nazi regime between a guard and a prisoner, and then continued in late 50s Vienna when the guard (now working as a night porter in a hotel) and the prisoner (now a glamorous wife of a celebrated composer) accidentally meet again.

This is really about private vs public ideologies. Things that were tolerated, even carried out on a much wider scale under Nazism are now seen as deviant and signs of sick minds post-war. Ironically by the Nazis themselves, who seem to believe that having gone through 'trials' (in order to collect evidence and 'file' witnesses) that they have been somehow cleansed of their past lives and previous deeds. The trials serve both the practical purpose and a pseudo-psychiatrically therapeutic one (perhaps that ironic psychiatric angle is the reason for the Viennese setting!), yet in the early sections of the film Max is interacting with the various members of the hotel who all themselves seem psychologically damaged by the parts they played during the war (say Bert, who likes dancing. Or the countess lying decadently in bed, waiting to be serviced) and the underlying ideology remains, just waiting to bubble up to the surface again.

The main relationship is less aberrant for the sadomasochistic relationship but for the way it is exposing the hypocrisies of the post-war society in which everyone is superficially innocent, yet all are corrupt and complicit under the surface, which only gets emphasised in the final scenes of the couple under siege in their flat. Nazism provided the accoutrements, the uniforms, the trappings of 'legitimacy' in the flashbacks (which in the fantastic opera scene beautifully feels as if it mixes up which character is having the flashback, despite Max predominantly having the flashbacks elsewhere), but once they have gone the central compulsive relationship is still there. Even if it gets dressed up again in significant uniforms or dresses to try and recapture the past.

I'm torn between wondering if the audience is meant to see it as somehow proving that it was something 'more than' just a relationship under Nazism and that there was a core of, albeit abusive, human connection there. Or whether it was just an opportunity to return to a past era. All the other characters cannot, and do not, want to return to that era. All of their ties have been severed with their previous actions (though psychologically their actions will never leave them), but Max and Lucia in their encounter are given the opportunity to return, and to die together rather than live apart again.

Lucia is the most interesting character of the film in her complicity. Given a way to escape at every turn, she still chooses to stay and eventually die with Max. 'Choosing to' is perhaps the most significant power shift in the relationship, from being a victim to in some ways staying around to destroy Max by her presence. It is a difficult character to wrestle with, as Lucia does willingly die and seems to be compulsively attracted to her previous torturer. There seems to be a suggestion in the flashbacks of Lucia maybe getting her first sexual awakenings through Max, albeit in a horrible and twisted fashion, so perhaps there is a suggestion that this initial awakening of her sexuality in such a fashion was so impactful that she wishes to explore it further outside of the camp. That perhaps Lucia realises that she cannot escape from her past either, and willingly accepts being a victim. But a dominant victim, whose presence pushes all those around her into re-recognising their wartime roles. Eventually in a way she and Max ironically condemn the attempts of their peers at putting the past in the past and moving on by getting re-dressed up in their wartime clothing for their final walk to be executed.

There are a few other aspects of the film to be unpacked, particularly the sense of androgyny in the characters, as suggested by the paired flashback performance scenes. But I still need to think about those aspects more to come to a conclusion about them. In some ways I agree with djproject above. This is an eye of the beholder film to a fault: it purposefully feels as if it holds back on fully laying out 'motivational' aspects to the characters, with the audience filling in some of that element instead. Though that feels as if it well illustrates the idea in the film of two individuals driven to have a relationship, for their own reasons perhaps difficult to understand within themselves, in the face of the wider society trying to fit them into particular societal roles (as important as the relationship enraging the ex-Nazis to a murderous extent is the far more downplayed way that Lucia abandons her husband and hides from the police he sends to look for her). At what point does the private relationship between two individuals impact on the wider society, and vice versa?

One of the most interesting things to hear in Cavani's interview was that she was considering either Rampling or Mia Farrow for the part. I wonder if Mia Farrow was down to Rosemary's Baby, itself a film with a few troubling flashbacks in it? Rampling's cropped hair in her flashback scenes of Night Porter also seems similar to Farrow's hairstyle in Rosemary's Baby. It was also interesting that Cavani had an idea of wanting Rampling from seeing Guiseppe Patroni Griffi's film adaptation of 'Tis Pity She's A Whore. That's a film (with a great Morricone score) that is also a tragedy about a compulsive relationship that destroys all around them, or rather forces society to destroy the central couple in response to their incest.

User avatar
colinr0380
Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK

Re: 59 The Night Porter

#36 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Feb 16, 2019 8:23 am

I have just noticed that Alex Cox's 1995 introduction to The Night Porter (in which he amusingly calls it "Death and the Maiden for grown ups") is up on YouTube.

nitin
Joined: Sat Nov 08, 2014 6:49 am

Re: 59 The Night Porter

#37 Post by nitin » Sat Feb 16, 2019 9:12 pm

I found this very interesting (and disturbing) until the siege occurred, at which point I thought it unfortunately sacrificed believability for allegory.

Post Reply