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Film / The Night Porter

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The Night Porter (Italian: Il portiere di notte) is a very controversial 1974 film by Italian director Liliana Cavani, starring Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling.

The film is set in Vienna, thirteen years after World War II, a concentration camp survivor meets Aldorfer, a former Nazi SS officer, now the night porter at a Vienna hotel. There, they fall back into their very ambiguous sadomasochistic relationship. Obviously the film deals with Stockholm Syndrome and all about World War II.

The Night Porter divided criticism: the movie was both celebrated for dealing with the theme of sexual transgression in such an unusual way and, simultaneously, was of course criticized for using the most controversial context, the Nazi Holocaust narrative. However, it is considered Cavani's best work.

This movie provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Ambiguously Jewish: It's never stated if Lucia was Jewish or not, she's only referred to as the daughter of a "socialist", and when she remembered being asked about her religion the flashback interrupts. Word of God says this was intentional, and that Lucia was meant to reflect the experience of female partisans and dissidents during the war. (see: Women of the Resistance)
  • Bigot with a Crush: The film was controversial in its day because of its subject matter: a Nazi SS officer and a concentration camp inmate become lovers during the war, and when they run into each other again years later, rekindle their old BDSM relationship.
  • Camera Fiend: Max even pretended to be a doctor for taking pictures of the inmates
  • Camp Gay: Bert, the opera dancer who used to perform for the Nazis.
  • The Chanteuse: Lucia's most famous scene has her singing for the SS officers Marlene Dietrich's Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte wearing only a SS visor cap, trousers with suspenders, and gloves. Yes, she was wearing ''only'' this.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Lucia smokes a lot, and even more when she tries to figuring out what to do with Max again in her life.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: But of course, given that World War II ended only 13 years ago.
  • Downer Ending: Max and Lucia couldn't escape from Max's former fellow Nazis and are shot dead by them.
  • Dull Surprise: Nobody noticed the surprise gaze that Max and Lucia share when they meet again, and only for the viewer could notice her surprise.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Well, what a Nazi would consider dignity, anyway. Eventually it becomes clear that there is no escape for Max and Lucia, so Max decides to take her and leave. Knowing full well that they will be chased down and killed by his Nazi buddies, Max puts on his old SS uniform, before they leave for their last fatal ride.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: After his past glory during Nazi Germany, Max and his fellow Nazis have all mundane jobs and lives to cover their past.
  • Fan Disservice: Naked and starving inmates. Two inmates having sex. Even the protagonist's sex scenes are a disservice when not merely creepy.
  • Film Noir: Aside from the obvious morbid relationship of the protagonists, the plot revolves around the former Nazi officers trying to find and neutralise every possible witness of their past exploits.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: The gloomy atmosphere of post-World War II Vienna matches perfectly the ambiguous lives of hiding former Nazis.
  • He Knows Too Much: Mario, the Italian chef is murdered by Max because he knows that Lucia is still alive and a potential witness for Max's past exploits.
  • High-Class Glass: Former Nazi officer Klaus wears one.
  • Iconic Outfit: Lucia's pieces of SS uniform with tall gloves and only suspenders on top.
  • Icy Blue Eyes: Lucia has a pair of these, which shows little emotions and are prone to Dull Surprise.
  • Laughing Mad: Lucia has a nightmarish one when she embraces again her former captor and lover.
  • Leave No Witnesses: Max and his fellow Nazis kill anyone who can testify against them, and this is what drives the plot.
  • Love Redeems: Played with. Interestingly enough, after he resumes his relationship with Lucia, Max seems to start regretting being a Nazi—and tries to softly challenge his fellow former Nazis on what they did. This results in one of them proudly declaring that he's proud of his service to the Reich, and would do it again. Max salutes with the rest of them, but this scene begins the rift which leads to the rest of the plot.
  • Malicious Slander: Stumm the valet, combined with Servile Snarker.
  • Meaningful Name: Lucia in Latin means "bright".
    • Genius Bonus: Max tells that he prefers the nightlife because the light makes him feel uncomfortable and ashamed.
  • Mrs. Robinson: Countess Stein resorts to her trusted friend Max to find young and dashing men for her bed.
  • Nazi Protagonist: Max is an unrepentant one, no less. For a time, anyway.
  • Pink Means Feminine: Lucia wears a pink childish dress the first time she met Max and was a teenager.
  • Power Dynamics Kink: The extreme version of this, namely a sadomasochistic relationship between an SS officer and a concentration camp prisoner.
  • Shot at Dawn: Max and Lucia at the end, while they are walking down the bridge.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When Max "rewards" Lucia with the head of a male inmate who molested the other inmates is one to Salomé. Max even refers to it while telling the story to the Countess.
    • There are few to The Damned (1969) by Luchino Visconti, such as the theme of sexual transgression in Nazi Germany, the atmosphere of decadence, and also the choice of the two main actors who were main characters in The Damned.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Lucia is constantly holding a cigarette in her hand.
  • The Sociopath: Max has serious shades of one. Even though his “romance” with Lucia is portrayed in a somewhat sympathetic light, he is still unrepentant about his past as a Nazi war criminal.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: This trope has never been so disturbing.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Adolph, the resident gigolo embodies this trope.
  • The Stoic: Max retains a cold and sarcastic demeanour for most of the time, but he could occasionally let it drop.
    • Also, Lucia rarely shows emotions to anyone but her former lover. And it's creepy anyway.
  • Uncanny Valley Makeup: The Countess and the opera dancer wear a founder much lighter than their own skin, which make them creepy-looking.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: Lucia's scene where she sings wearing gloves, suspenders on her bare chest and a Nazi cap.