Sunday, January 11, 2015


Liliana Cavani's THE NIGHT PORTER (1974) and Luchino Visconti's THE DAMNED (1969) take up the subject of the SS as seen from an Italian perspective,  unflinchingly tempestuous,  yet somehow drawn to a fatal eventuality. This is not surprising given Italy's dire flirtation (oh those uniforms!) with fascism and an even more substantial desire to succumb to hedonism in all forms. THE NIGHT PORTER somehow manages to depict the conflicts that arise when juggling duty,  desire,  destiny,  and depravity. Dirk Bogarde (as ex-SS officer Max) and Charlotte Rampling (as Lucia,  his prisoner and lover) both previously appeared in THE DAMNED,  and give exquisitely moody performances,  somehow veering between pleasure and pain,  charm and menace. Max is portrays an aristocratic night porter at a Viennese hotel in 1957,  albeit one with dark desires and a past to match.  Lucia is married to an American conductor whose past found her a concentration camp prisoner/darling,  willingly involved in the disturbed pleasures of the SS,  and with Max in particular (Rampling's take on Salome seen in flashback is both erotic and shocking). That Italian censors found the film's sex scenes problematic was due to Rampling's top position more than the fleeting nudity and strong violence seems strange to us now,  but hardly surprising in 1974. This is a film about submission more than anything else,  yet is still a kind of love story whose ending precludes any kind of happiness.

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