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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Night Porter (Blu-ray)
The Night Porter (Blu-ray)
Criterion // R // December 9, 2014 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted December 3, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

Directed by Liliana Cavani, 1974's The Night Porter is set in Vienna, Italy in the year 1957. The Second World War has been over for a while now and a forty-something bachelor named Max (Dirk Bogarde) works away at his job as a night porter for a posh hotel. One night while he's working, a beautiful woman named Lucia (Charlotte Rampling) walks into the hotel and immediately they recognize one another. As the move plays out, we learn that Max was a former Nazi officer at a concentration camp where Lucia was imprisoned and that while she was in that camp, the two carried on with a torrid love affair.

Later, Lucia, who is left wanting in her marriage to a busy American working in Italy with a symphony orchestra, decides she's willing to reunite with Max. She head to the hotel to see him and they have a most unorthodox reunion. While this is happening, a small cabal of Max's fellow former Nazi's are setting out to permanently remove anyone with knowledge of their past who could possibly expose them for who they really are. They know of his reunion with Lucia and of the dangers that it might pose to them and to remove her from the equation and ensure her silence forever, they request an assassination be carried out. While the assassin is moving in on Max to track down Lucia, they carry on their affair, an increasingly kinky ordeal involving equal parts pleasure and pain. When Max learns what is afoot, he locks himself and the woman he is willing to risk it all for inside the hotel room. He knows if they give the assassin the opportunity they will be killed, but also know that they can't stay in this room forever…

As thematically dark a romance picture as you can imagine, The Night Porter deals in exposing what most of us would consider to be a pretty twisted relationship and showing us what can come out of it. The film is sexually quite a daring film, with neither Max nor Lucia unable to let go of the past they have collectively shared no matter how sordid and tainted by the sins of war it might be. When the spark that once was between them is ignited anew, the scars that were cut into their respective psyches prove to have run deep and what was initially part of their experiences together in the concentration camp in many ways begins anew, albeit this time with a lot more consent. What results is a sexually and emotionally charged affair, and while all of this plays out with a slow and sometimes languid pace, the movie proves to be quite riveting.

While it might be easy to lump the film in with the ‘Nazisploitation' pictures coming out of Italy and America in the seventies and while it's fair to say that The Night Porter does deal in some of those same themes, the movie is too cerebral for that to be a particularly fair comparison. Yes, the sex scenes in the film are pretty graphic and Max's past serving in the Third Reich plays a part on how these scenes play out but Cavani is legitimately interested in exploring the ramifications of this reunion more than she is in showing off a series of kinky set pieces. As love tends to be in the real world, so too is it in this film a twisting and complicated thing, an emotion powerful enough to bring about both the best and the worst in people and that will often put into play a cycle of abuse that can sometimes be impossible to break.

The movie is very nicely shot, the compositions are entirely appropriate to the story at any given point in the movie and the lighting and use of color in the film is appropriately moody and often fairly dark. The score punctuates the film's many moments of intense drama and emotion in ways best described as haunting. Indeed as a whole Cavani and her crew did a fine job with the technical side of things, however all of this would be wasted if the central performances weren't up to snuff. Thankfully both Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling prove more than capable and deliver work here that really is quite perfect. He's got the charisma and dominance you'd expect while she appears frail and submissive but there's more to their work here than just that. They infuse the delivery of their lines with plenty of emotional substance, to the point where we completely buy them in what is, when you think about it, a fairly unlikely situation. There are impressive aspects of the physical side of their work here too, a great example being the scene in which Max sits in the audience for one of Lucia's husbands performances. She's there too and while they don't talk to one another the two leads are able to communicate so much tension with their looks and facial expressions that they really don't need to utter a single word.

The Blu-ray:

The Night Porter arrives on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection in a 1.85.1 widescreen transfer presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. This is a film that makes use of a lot of cooler colors throughout and that's replicated well on this transfer. Detail is strong throughout, even in the darker scenes (which are quite frequent) and blacks are free of crush and compression issues. Skin tones are lifelike and natural, not too pink or too orange, while texture remains impressive in pretty much every frame. There aren't any problems with print damage, dirt or debris of any note while the mild grain that is obvious throughout the movie simply reminds us that this was shot on film. Things do lean towards a greenish-blue in a lot of scenes but that's how the movie would seem to be intended to look. This is, ultimately, a pleasingly film-like picture free of obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement and quite a substantial improvement over the previous DVD release (which wasn't a high point in Criterion's DVD catalogue given that it was an early release with a non-anamorphic transfer).

Sound:

The only audio option for the film is an English language LPCM Mono track, no alternate language or subtitle options are provided though closed captioning is provided, also in English. As to the quality of the lossless track, like the transfer it is quite strong. The track is perfectly balanced so that the dialogue stays easily discernable throughout the movie but at the same time the evocative score winds up with quite a bit of depth and range. Hiss and distortion are never a problem here and all in all the audio sounds excellent.

Extras:

Criterion provides a few extras of note, starting with an eight and a half minute long newly recorded interview with the film's director, Liliana Cavani. She speaks here about her inspiration for the film, why she chose Rampling for the female lead role and her approach to dealing with the political issues inherent in the film's story.

The disc includes a second featurette as well, the fifty-minute 1965 documentary Women Of The Resistance that was also directed by Cavani. This is an interesting piece that compliments the main feature well in that it's basically entirely made up of interviews with various Italian women who took part in the resistance movement during the Second World War while the Nazi war machine was in full swing. It's quite moving at times. Cavani provides a new five minute introduction to this piece and offers some welcome context to the program.

Also included in the clear Blu-ray keepcase alongside the disc itself is an insert booklet of liner notes containing an essay on the movie by film scholar Gaetana Marrone, the author of The Gaze And The Labyrinth: The Cinema Of Liliana Cavani that offers a nice history of the picture. Accompanying this essay is an excerpt from an interview with Cavani conducted in 1975 as well as cast and crew credits for the picture and credits for the Blu-ray release.

Final Thoughts:

The Night Porter is a bleak film, at times a fairly unpleasant and depressing watch, but so too it is bold in its depictions of the dark side of love and incredibly well made. If it's not a picture for all tastes, so be it but those who appreciate challenging and though provoking cinema made with plenty of artistic flourishes and brave, convincing performances should find much to appreciate here. Criterion's Blu-ray isn't stacked with extras but the two featurettes are a nice addition while both the audio and the video are substantial upgrades over their previous DVD release. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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