“The Night Porter” (1974)

4If the amount of controversy a BDSM movie attracts after release is a litmus test determining how transgressive it is, Liliana Cavani’s 1974 psychosexual fascist noir drama “The Night Porter” passes without a hitch but with plenty of bruises. The first in a trilogy looking back into a contentious German past so as to better understand its human effects on the present (“Beyond Good and Evil” and “The Berlin Affair” would follow), “The Night Porter” is the film Cavani will forever be remembered for. The story is set in 1950s Vienna and rekindles the flames of a sadomasochistic passion that developed between an SS Nazi officer (Dirk Bogarde) and a concentration camp survivor (Charlotte Rampling) during World War II. Banned in Italy, the film infuriated Roger Ebert (he gave it one star and called it “despicable”) and posed a kind of cultural threat in the ’70s, re-opening wounds that barely begun to heal. Whether Cavani veils fascism in a twisted romantic light or is merely dabbling in allegory is neither here nor there when talking about how downright disturbing and ceaselessly cinematic her scenes of mental and physical torture are. Bogarde and Rampling turn in fantastic performances that are equal parts subtle and hysterical, and their complex hate/love for one another is masked by an omnipresent atmosphere of European high culture (operas, lavish hotels, high-end amenities, etc.), widening the possibilities of interpretation. With sinister flashbacks, painstakingly involved composition and claustrophobic scenes of the present, Cavani utilizes BDSM in provocative ways, smearing the psychological makeup of people stuck in the past with tremendous results.

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