Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Night Porter (1974)

You have to wonder what goes on in the minds of film snobs sometimes. Why do they enjoy films from genres they otherwise despise as long as a certain set of criteria involving classical scores and other such minutia are met? Such a film is the kinda-Nazisploitation The Night Porter, which caused quite a bit of controversy back in the day, although I can't imagine how. But then again, I already find the most disturbing, traumatizing, and 'irredeemable vile' nazisploitation films to be tame stuff, so maybe I'm an impartial judge.

Accusations of poor taste and supposed 'Nazi Chic' (HA! As if this film was that ballsy) were what sent some critics into a rage over The Night Porter, and this certainly isn't a film that all mainstream critics enjoyed. Roger Ebert, for example, hated it. I, for one, feel much the same way about it...

In 1958, Max Aldorfer is a night porter at a hotel, laying low from the world. He was a Nazi in World War II, and after killing nearly all witnesses who could testify against him, Max quietly retreated to live a quiet life. The past is soon rooted up when a woman named Lucia checks in at the hotel. Max recognizes her as an inmate from his concentration camp, where the two engaged in a sadomasochistic relationship. While frightened at first, Lucia quickly rekindles her relationship with Max, but the two are threatened when Max's Nazi buddies find out about this potential witness that Max let live...

It's not often when a movie finds itself needing more qualities akin to an icky nazisploitation movie, rather than less. You see, The Night Porter is boring! The first half hour accomplishes so little, and from then on, we get more of the same-Read: Nothing. An hour in, and the only thing we know about the two main characters is that they seem to have gotten their groove on together in a concentration camp. The plot is extremely minimal, the flashbacks too short and infrequent, and some scenes are downwright insane, like Dirk Bogarde making tea in real time! That had me yelling 'Oh my god, I GET IT! He's making tea! What it this, Crazy Fat Ethel 2?!'.

The Night Porter's two main characters are incredibly unlikeable. Lucia is a stupid bitch with zero good sense, while Max is a Nazi, murderer, torturer, rapist, and possibly a child-molester too, if the film is serious in trying to pass of a near-thirty year old Charlotte Rampling as a kid! I frankly don't care if their being unlikeable is the point, as the writing is too boring for them to be compellingly so.

Throughout this whole movie, I kept expecting it to end similarly to The Gestapo's Last Orgy, wherein the main character had a sensible reaction to encountering her torturer and forced lover years after the fact-She duped him by pretending to return his feelings, then she shot the crap out of him!

Max's crowning moment of idiocy comes in a flashback, when he forces Lucia to give him a blowjob. What idiot lets one of their death camp prisoners suck them off?! THEY'RE GONNA BITE YOUR DICK OFF, DUMBASS!

What separates The Night Porter from other Nazisploitation fare is that stuff actually happened in those movies. Also, some actually showed sexual stuff, making them certainly more convincing than off panel head-thrusting. Not that a film about sexual subject matter has to be soft/hard-core to work, but when a movie meant to be about a perverse sadomasochistic relationship comes across as so vanilla, there's a problem!

The Night Porter is filled with classical music over nothing happening, which is I'm sure 70% of the reason why film snobs* enjoy it. The music is dull and does nothing to alleviate the absolute boredom that permeates the movie. It only gets odd in one scene. Death camp spandau ballet is just as outlandish as nazi popes, SS women training schools, evil commandants who are envious of a fellow soldier's balls, therefore conspiring to steal them, and prostitutes rubbing themselves against frozen pilots to bring them back to life. The flashback brothel dance with Charlotte Rampling is considered to be the film's most iconic scene, and even included on the poster, yet I felt it too was boring. It was brief, tame, and meh.

*I suppose this already goes without saying, but when I talk about the film snobs who enjoy this movie, I'm exclusively referring to unlikeable snobs, not to random people who also happen to enjoy The Night Porter. They're fine.

There are a bundle of stupid scenes in the movie too, such as Max and his friends discussing nazi business in the open! Even when they talk in private, it's in locations they could easily be heard in. And Max even keeps his nazi regalia in his cupboard!  Jesus, dude, if you're gonna go so far to purge your misdeeds that you kill hundreds, if not thousands, of people, then destroying your uniform should have happened a looooong time ago!

I'd find it interesting that a woman directed a film full of sadomasochistic sexual violence back in 1974, if this film wasn't so tame. Ignoring that, Liliana Cavani's direction is good, but the framing not-so much. To put it another way, Liliana Cavani can direct people silently making drinks in real-time up there with Nick Phillips/Millard! There are also numerous abrupt cuts, some even cutting off the scoring midway.

The acting in The Night Porter is passable. Dirk Bogarde looks like a less-talented Humphrey Bogart, never coming across as intimidating, while Charlotte Rampling's performance is nothing! She emotes decently, I guess, but she barely converses with her love interest of the movie, and only has minimal dialogue with anyone else.

There's only one positive I can lend to The Night Porter, and even then, it's a barbed one. It's a riffable movie, but you'll still be bored senseless watching this, so it's not worth the minimal fun riffing will provide.

To conclude with a joke only very few people will get, The Night Porter isn't a film whose boots I'd lick forever...

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