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Vienna, 1957: Max (Dirk Bogarde) is an insignificant night porter at a
respectable hotel, who lives, in his own words, "like a
churchmouse". Max wasn't always like that, once he was with the SS,
in charge of a concentration camp, and he is in touch with former SS
officers even now, who have formed a organisation to get rid of all the
evidence and witnesses of their former wrongdoings, even by violent force.
Max only wants this to find closure and go on with his insiginificant
life, but others, like the organisation's leader Klaus (Philippe Leroy)
have other plans, that include a reemergence of the SS.
Rampling) is the wife of a famed conductor (Marino Masé). She leads a
life in luxury and visits Vienna merely because her husband is doing a
guest performance at the opera. But it wasn't always like that. Once,
during World War II, she has been the inmate of a concentration camp, and
one of the very few who got away alive. When she runs into Max, the night
porter of the hotel she and her husband are staying at, she recognizes him
immediately: He is the commander of the camp she was at, indeed one of her
torturers. Now the right thing to do would have been to immediately blow
the whistle of course, but it's not that easy: Back in the day, Max has
taken a fancy in the girl, has made her his sex slave. Sure, he has
humiliated and tortured her, but he has also shown special attention to
her, kept her from being killed, and just maybe, the fact that she is
still alive even now is thanks to him.
Without her knowing it, Max is
helping Lucia even now, like when a informer (Ugo Cardea) blows the
whistle of a witness against Klaus and gang is staying at Max's hotel, he
kills the informer before he can give away Lucia's name. Later, Max goes
to Lucia's room to rape her, but judging from her reactions, she seems to
be into it, has hoped for it to happen - a clear case of Stockholm
Of course, Klaus and the others have long grown wise to what's
really going on, know that Max has killed the informer, guess who Lucia
really is, and they want to talk him into giving her up - but Max is
genuinely in love with her, refuses whatever deal they have to offer.
leaves the hotel, allegedly to reunite with her husband, who has left a
few days earlier, but really to move into Max's apartment, to relive their
former "romance" by playing games of master and slave, cat and
mouse. However, her move hasn't gone unnoticed by Klaus and men, and
ultimately, they put his apartment under siege, try to very cynically
starve them out. Max and Lucia hold out an admirably long time, and find
solace in each other when all seems long lost, but ultimately, they break,
leave the apartment, he in SS uniform, she in something a concentration
camp inmate would have worn, and just walk away as if to a better world
only the two of them can see. And on a bridge over River Danube, both are
shot dead by Klaus's men.
A delicious mix of serious
reminiscense to come of the darkest chapters of 20th century and fetish
erotica, amour fou and Stockholm Syndrome, all not done in a preachy
manner but based on a very ambivalent storyline that not exactly
reinterprets history but gives it an interesting spin. And if all this is
graced by a subtle direction by Liliana Cavani, who quite clearly refuses
to take sides, and a great cast (first and foremost of course Dirk Bogarde
and Charlotte Rampling in the leads), you've got yourself one excellent