The Night Porter Criterion Collection Blu-ray review
The porter waits behind the front desk of a Vienna hotel and watches the numerous guests mingle. He reaches for a room key and when he turns around, he catches sight of a woman decked out in a new dress and earrings. They lock eyes and then divert them. Shortly after, he sits in the lobby, biting his nails and remembering the face. That night, the woman’s husband phones down and requests a bottle of water. “No, don’t call,” says the woman. She returns to the bathroom, shaken, and drops to the floor.
Flashbacks reveal how the two know each other. The porter, Maximilian Theo Aldorfer (Dick Bogarde, Joseph Losey’s THE SERVANT), was once an SS officer, and the woman, Lucia Atherton (Charlotte Rampling, who had not long prior played Anne Boleyn in the BBC miniseries HENRY VIII AND HIS SIX WIVES), was one of thousands sent to the concentration camp he was assigned to. It’s there that he raped and abused her.
It’s now 1957, a number of years after World War II ended. Maximilian has opted to downplay his days under Hitler and live a quiet life. His only relation to his past has been his affiliation with a group of former Nazis who wish to eliminate anyone who could identify them. Lucia has since married a conductor, who is unaware of her past but safely assures her they will be out of Vienna soon. But when it comes time to leave, Lucia stays behind. Soon after, she is holing up with Maximilian, her new lover.
THE NIGHT PORTER is one of those films you hear about and almost dare yourself to see just to turn word-of-mouth into visuals; and, although it takes its time getting there, THE NIGHT PORTER is indeed filled with all of the horrible things one has heard about. It is certainly controversial, but it isn’t so because it stirs up debate, but because of how repulsive it is. Here is a torturer and the tortured recreating the torture for no real reason (if the twosome truly loves each other, it’s an impossible reach for the audience to buy; if their acts are the only way they can get off and so the other is an essential part of their being, it’s not made clear.) and an infamous dance sequence whose intent, it seems, is to be arousing even though the content is disturbing. All the while, the viewer is expected to feel bad for Maximilian because he has had a string of guilt, and also put up with the director’s smirks, which come from her throwing in contrasting touches of class (by making Lucia’s husband a renowned conductor and incorporating the works of Mozart).
THE NIGHT PORTER could have offered a deep commentary, but since director Liliana Cavani (1969’s THE CANNIBALS, 1971’s THE GUEST) seems to be having such a good time with the material, it is utter trash and plays, at times, like Nazisploitation.
The few impressive elements in the film come from the art direction by Nedo Azzini and Jean Marie Simon and the cinematography by Alfio Contini (who also lensed for such directors as Michelangelo Antonioni and Dino Rissi).
Video: 1.85:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “Supervised by director Liliana Cavani, this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative and a 35 mm interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt and jitter.”
This high-definition transfer is an overall strong one that presents fine details and accurate colors.
Audio: English Mono. “The monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm magnetic track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RK 3.”
The audio transfer features clear dialogue and a clean Daniele Paris score.
WOMEN OF THE RESISTANCE (49:56): This 1965 documentary, made for RAI television, features interviews with “a variety of women who participated in the Italain resistance and survived the German invasion of Italy in World War II.” With an Introduction (4:55) by Liliana Cavani.
Liliana Cavani (8:33): In this interview, conducted in 2014, director Cavani reflects on the making of THE NIGHT PORTER.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is a booklet featuring an essay by scholar Gaetana Marrone, author of The Gaze and the Labyrinth: The Cinema of Liliana Cavani, and an excerpt from a 1975 interview with Cavani.