I’m not sure how I feel about The Night Porter. I went into it some expectations, I guess, but also not knowing much about the story. I know it had shown up on a few lists of controversial movies — the kind of lists I like to draw viewing inspiration from — but found the actual film surprisingly, well, tame.
But not just tame. I didn’t quite buy the story itself. Not that a situation like this couldn’t occur, just that in this story there wasn’t enough work done to make me think it would occur in this way.
So what’s The Night Porter about? A nazi officer and a pretty (presumably jewish) girl begin a troubled relationship during the war when he plucks her from a concentration camp. Though we never really get to see what happens to them at the end of the war, we do see that they’re reunited years later — he is working as a night porter, and she is the wife of a renowned conductor. Soon they begin their romance again, and then, well, I don’t want to spoil the ending.
The relationship is intriguing. There’s a push and pull of power throughout — even during the wartime scenes, when power should have definitely been in his hands more than hers — but it’s not compelling enough. Worse yet, it’s undermined by the fact that their relationship is never entirely believable.
There is one standout scene though. The woman, topless but wearing men’s black pants and suspenders, with a nazi hat and long, black gloves, does a slow, sultry dance as she sings “Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte” to the nazi guards. Not only is it sexy, but it’s also disturbing to see the nazi imagery of her costume used this way, and shows how much she’s complicit, even as a victim.
All in all, I liked it more than I disliked it, and maybe the biggest problem I had with it was simply the reputation that preceded my watch.