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Monday, August 15, 2011

The Night Porter

This is a movie that had long been on my "to watch" list but for some reason or other kept getting pushed about. Once I finally saw it, it became a personal favorite of mine.  Its a tale of darkness, secrets, and in the end of it all love. Yes, believe it or not this film is a love story when all is said and done. Read on!

First, have a look at the trailer:

I purposely chose the Japanese trailer so that for those of us who cannot read Japanese something still remains a mystery but still might titillate you into seeing it if you haven't already. The plot revolves around a solemn night porter named Max (played to absolute perfection by Dirk Bogarde). Max works in a hotel in Vienna in the 1950's and is hiding from his past as an SS officer who perpetrated many brutal (but only hinted at) acts against concentration camp prisoners. The hotel is full of former Nazi's (many from Max's past at the camp), for whom he performs various services.

Tensions are running high in Max's life as of late, as he is about to go through his "trial" that will allow him to confess his misdeeds and come clean in a room full of ex nazis and have any relevant documents incriminating him burned. Unfortunately a lone witness, Lucia (who as a teenage girl had a bizarre S&M love affair with Max in the camp, played by Charlotte Rampling) has survived and once found will be "filed away". Seeing one another in the flesh for the first time in nearly a decade, they reignite their passionate but morally dubious love affair as events begin to spiral far out of their control. So begins a journey of reunion, dark desire and ultimate loss. The roles of opressor and oppressed are completely turned on their heads by the end of this tale, while the almost sickening repetition of the past (both in actions taken by the characters in their present day and via flashbacks) lends a frenetic and dizzying air to the film as a whole.

I've recommended this film to quite a few different people over the years- none of which has seen it I absolutely guarantee. Apparently this film is simply too "edgy" for them as they are sensitive about anything even vaguely having to do with nazism. All I can say is their loss. The many philosophical questions raised throughout the film would lead you to believe that most intelligent people will have seen it at least once. I was of course sorely mistaken.

The idea for this film partially came from an interview which director Liliana Cavani had with a concentration camp survivor. The interviewee told her about how she had had a brutal sexual relationship with a camp guard in order to survive. I do not know if this interview was ever published, as I have unfortunately never been able to locate it but should anyone know if it was please do come forth and tell everyone as I am sure I am not the only one curious to know what was said.

The imagery and over all aesthetic of this film (which ranges everything from staunch political beliefs to homoeroticism and beyond) has inspired countless musicians and other artists since its original release. The scene most often referred to is the Dance Of The Seven Veils sequence, in which Lucia dances for a bar full of SS men in masks while singing the song "Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte" (made famous by Marlene Dietrich). The scene is strange, and unsettling. Like all of the flashbacks in the film, the scene appears to be over lit and the actors all wear very pale makeup. This is a touch I really think makes these scenes interesting. As memories fade and become glossed over with time to you and I, our character's memories become washed out and faded as they struggle to put their pasts behind them, and frankly it makes them literally appear as ghosts (which is most fitting under the circumstances). This scene heavily influenced the video clip for the Duran Duran song "The Chauffeur", just to name one popular example off the top of my head. Other bands such as Neo Folk powerhouse Death In June have used samples from this film on their recordings also. As merely trying to describe this would not be enough, here is the scene in question:

There is one thing I cannot and will not stand for: The way this film is often categorized by laymen. It is often (and I feel erroneously) classified as a "Nazisploitation" picture. I find no sensationalistic or otherwise exploitative elements ANYWHERE in this film. You may remember my review of the film "Cut Throat Kommandos" from a while back- THAT is a nazisploitation film if there ever was one. Exploitation films are by definition often bereft of artistic integrity, artful direction, and moral standing which this film has by the pound. In no way can this film be lumped in with such a shameless and morally benign genre by anyone with the least amount of film knowledge (or so I like to hope). This film is pure art house, and inspired such films that became nazisploitation later on. Such are the unfortunate ways of film.

I have another special present for you, dearest readers! This time it comes from a rather rare Japanese 7" single featuring two songs from the score by composer Daniele Paris. I apologize for the crackle on the recording, but I removed as much of the dust as possible before transferring it to mp3. Read further for more information and a handy link for your downloading pleasure.

Here is the cover of the single in question:

There is another release of this single which has a different b-side, and also a full length lp. It appears that Japan (and if I recall correctly Spain?) was one of the only countries to receive a proper release of the films haunting score. There is also an Italian 7" similar to the one seen above. Then there is a CD release with most of the music on it (along with another score by Paris) but it just doesn't quite cut it for me when the day is done. Maybe some day the score will get a proper rerelease, one can only dream...

If you've read this far about the soundtrack, you are no doubt interested.  Simply click here to get this rare gem.

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