While being out with a couple of friends you find yourself rolling your eyes, sighing in exhaustion, and wondering why there are so many people hypnotized by the Fifty Shades of Grey movies and books, whether negatively or positively, you do have a solution to get out from this conversation. This would be by kindly suggesting to watch the 1974 movie The Night Porter. Made by Liliana Cavani, starring Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling.
There should normally be a sudden and instant silence in the group. Especially when mentioning the name Charlotte Rampling and the movies she played in. If you see them with the dead fisheye look and a lost expression on their faces, then you know you’re good to go.
I’m not here to bash on the Fifty Shades of Grey books as I never read them. Just because if I had to choose between reading another book or watch a Youtube video against Fifty Shades of Grey, I would choose the former (as I did many times). As for the movies well, I attempted to watch the first one, but fell asleep halfway through it.
So, you’ve found your solution to end a tiring conversation with your friends, and with the added bonus of making yourself look highbrow, artistic and intellectual. To the point where they will believe you’re actually European. If you’re American that is. You can then pop out your phone and show them the movie trailer, while glancing at their shocked looks of course.
Whether you’ll love or hate this movie, you’ll quickly forget about any Fifty Shades of Grey controversies.
The Night Porter was an extremely problematic movie when it came out in 1975. And not because of the sex scenes, even though it was publicized as “kinky”. But because of its story and context, which I shall rapidly resume:
Max (Dirk Bogarde) is a former SS who is now employed as a night porter in a Vienna hotel in 1957. He crosses the path of Lucia (Charlotte Rampling), the wife of an American conductor and from there, we get flashbacks from their past “relationship” as they already knew each other in a concentration camp during WWII, where Lucia had been imprisoned and then groomed by Max to become his “little girl”. Because of her trauma and probably hanging onto anything and anyone that may save her from torture and death, Lucia surrenders to Max and dives into a master-sub relationship with him. So, we have scenes like Lucia naked and running away from Max who’s shooting at her, Max taking care of her in exchange for sexual acts, offering her the head of a guy that harassed her as a gift (which she receives happily) and that, just after a scene where Lucia sings in German and dances for the officers while wearing a masculine costume, which became the signature of the movie. You may not know the movie, but the image of Rampling in that costume will certainly ring a bell. Here it is below.
The rest of the movie focuses on their reunion at the hotel, them continuing the relationship where they left it and just repeating the same sadomasochistic patterns. All of that while trying to hide from some former SS officers who are tracking down past prisoners so that they can’t testify against them.
This resumé should be enough to shut anyone up.
If you look up the reviews from 1975 and a bit after, you’ll surely end up by finding adjectives such as “disgusting” “smut” and “ashamed”. Just go check out Roger Ebert’s take on it which goes back to the movie’s same decade. A lot considered it as a fascist-exploitation movie hiding itself behind intellectualism.
Today, the reviews are divided, probably because of Dirk Bogarde’s and Charlotte Rampling’s extraordinary performances, and the serious and cold atmosphere of the movie which suits the plot well. The movie is not filmed as a romance, which it is not, at least not for me. It’s a raw, cut and dry movie about a certain kind of intimacy.
A little paragraph about intimacy: I believe that in a lot of romantic movies and any other kinds of movies where a relationship is presented, intimacy is highly lacking, probably because of bad dialogue. Romance is like the pink curtain ready to open and reveal the intimacy of the characters, when there’s nothing there, it’s just a pretty parcel with nothing in it. For a creative like myself, the subject of intimacy has an advantage over romance, because it doesn’t need to be pretty, cute and making you want to fly on the back of a unicorn. It can be obscure, mysterious, hiding in the shadows of someone’s mind or even be extravagant and absurd. It can also be realistic, in other words, plain and boring. Of course, writing or making a movie about the intimacy of two individuals which includes, sharing a bathroom, how much can they spend on food shopping and why one of them didn’t take out the garbage is not something a young romantic Twilight fan and teenager would be attracted to.
Just for this, I would recommend this movie, which holds a special place in my heart. However, be prepared. Take out your Freud books about death and desire, and, if you wish to enjoy this movie, just remember sex and death are the two sides of the same coin.
According to you, did The Night Porter age well like good wine?
I do wonder what impact The Night Porter would have had if it came out today. But the most important question remains unanswered. What happened to Lucia’s harasser’s head? What did she do with it? That, my friends we may never know…
I’ll let you take the lead on that.