By Graham Fuller | the Arts Desk
The Night Porter depicts the consuming sadomasochistic love affair of an SS officer, Max (Dirk Bogarde), and the Catholic woman, Lucia (Charlotte Rampling), whom he both tortures and protects when she is a teenage concentration camp inmate, and who becomes his partner in a protracted liebestod when they meet by chance in Vienna 12 years after the war’s end. Think of it as the anti-Casablanca.
in 1957, Max is the eponymous hotel employee, ashamed of appearing in daylight, and Lucia is the decorous wife of a famous American conductor. They are drawn together again by mutual desire and guilt, but she is emotionally stronger now than he is, and serene in the notion that their story can only end one way.
Their love may have begun with a monstrous male gaze – posing as a white-coated camp doctor, Max filmed Lucia in close-up as she shuffled with other naked female prisoners toward “the showers” – but by the end it manifests purity and tenderness. That doesn’t mitigate Lucia having warmed to her role as Max’s rescued Nazi slut or Max having smirkingly gifted her, Salome-like, the head of her camp bully during the notorious cabaret sequence. Yet director Liliana Cavani does hint at joint redemption in their final act.