Friday, September 19, 2008

THE NIGHT PORTER (Liliana Cavani, 1974, Italy) Lucia is sodomised and dehumanized; to survive, she becomes what she most despises. Her resolve shattered and fragmented like broken glass, she is made an addict against her will. As we get bleak recollections of her past, we see Lucia striped of her humanity, naked and shivering awaiting her future…which is none at all. This is the Second World War and Lucia is a Jew, her destination a nameless Concentration Camp. But one Nazi Officer takes a liking to her and offers her salvation. She becomes a showpiece, a puppet, a walking corpse whose body is no longer her own; she is twisted and broken. Lucia comes to revel in this nihilistic behavior and see Max, the SS Officer, as her savior. But she does survive the Holocaust at an awful cost. She stumbles upon Max thirteen years later and, like a junkie or alcoholic: once and addict always an addict. She falls back into this startling sadistic pattern and Max takes full advantage of her. The film is told almost completely from Max’s perspective, which distances us from Lucia who is the true victim. This dichotomy is difficult to rationalize because we are forced to see Max as a human, to feel compassion for his plight. But it’s Director Liliana Cavani’s trick, a bait and switch con: she shows us Lucia’s bargain price salvation then encourages us to buy into Max’s high cost stakes. In this context, their morality is effectively understood and we can empathize with Lucia and her self-destructive, erotic impulses. She has once again become a toy and Max is still the egocentric killer. The other Nazi members, still hiding in plain site all these years, want to murder Lucia because she can bring Justice to their cruel acts, she can identify Max to the authorities. Cavani films in washed-out colors and muted tones, which feels like we’re viewing an old memory from a dusty scrapbook. Her mise-en-scene is memorable: an overhead angle gives the empty Hotel a courtroom appearance: Max is alone in the darkness, like a Judge ruling over ghosts, as if the Rule Of Law need not apply to these proceedings. As the two of them become prisoners in his tiny apartment, this sadomasochistic game is played out once again, but this time there are no survivors. (B)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lively writing but not altogether helpful. Sorry. Sodomy, after all, is a legal term to describe the act of anal, oral, or bestial intercourse, none of which is enacted upon Lucia during the course of the movie.

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