The Night Porter (Italian: Il portiere di notte) is a 1974 Italian erotic psychological drama film. Directed and co-written by Liliana Cavani, the film stars Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling, and features Philippe Leroy and Gabriele Ferzetti. Its themes of sexual and sadomasochistic obsession have made the film controversial since its initial release, with critics being divided over the film’s artistic value.
Roger Ebert said in 1975 “The Night Porter is as nasty as it is lubricious, a despicable attempt to titillate us by exploiting memories of persecution and suffering. It is (I know how obscene this sounds) Nazi chic. It’s been taken seriously in some circles, mostly by critics agile enough to stand on their heads while describing 180-degree turns, in order to interpret trash as really meaningful”.
In her essay for the Criterion Collection release, however, Annette Insdorf called The Night Porter “a provocative and problematic film. … [I]t can be seen as an exercise in perversion and exploitation of the Holocaust for the sake of sensationalism. On the other hand, a closer reading of this English-language psychological thriller suggests a dark vision of compelling characters doomed by their World War II past.”
The film depicts the political continuity between wartime Nazism and post-war Europe and the psychological continuity of characters locked into compulsive repetition of the past. On another level it deals with the psychological condition known as Stockholm Syndrome. More basically, it explores two people in an uneasy yet inextricably bound relationship within the context of a greater political malaise during and after World War II.