There are films that exist outside of themselves—by that I mean—it’s impossible for the viewer to completely suspend disbelief, as they are regularly brought to the present by the question, ‘How did this get made? What were the circumstances that allowed this to happen?’
Caligula falls into this category. The Night Porter isn’t nearly as overblown and utterly baffling as that and I would argue this had more going for it—it certainly had more artistic merit, if less Helen Mirren being done doggy-style.
But there comes a moment when a viewer wonders, ‘How on God’s green Earth did Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte-Fucking-Rampling wind up in an Italian-made Nazisploitation film with sadomasochistic themes?’
I mean… How?
At first I thought it must have been based on a novel—there must have been some literary foundation that had gone sideways in the interpretation, but nope.
So…money? Boredom? Blackmail? I don’t know. I have no answers.
Mystification aside… I quite enjoyed it. You couldn’t pay me to watch Caligula again (I’ve seen the uncut version twice and I’m set for life, cheers) but I’d watch this one again easily.
In the opening Max (Dirk Bogarde), a porter in an upscale hotel in 1957 Vienna sees to the Countess, who says she’s cold and requires assistance. Max fetches a young man and we’re treated to a casual shot of uncircumcised penis. Well, hello, European film-makers.
That same evening several fancy people come in, dressed in finery—one of whom is the young and lovely Lucia (Rampling). Both are startled by the other’s presence. Before either can speak, however, she is swept along with her well-dressed friends and upstairs to their rooms.
Max thinks back to how he knew her—they had been on opposite sides of the War. He had been a low-level Nazi officer when she was brought in to be processed. He had filmed her and found her particularly captivating. His interest in her is what saved her life, as they had a…unique relationship that involved sadomasochism, Daddy/girl undertones and a Marlene Dietrich song.
A man with the most magnificent monocle you could ever hope to see comes in—Max addresses him as Herr Professor—and it becomes clear they’re preparing for a trial. There’s discussion of what evidence of Max’s involvement in the War exists and who has it. He had posed as a doctor but none of his ‘patients’ had survived. Except one. A young woman.
Efforts are undertaken to find her. Max says he has no idea who or where she is. Though he eventually confronts her to find out if she’s returned to turn him into the police and their relationship picks up where it left off and continues to grow weirder. Because now several former Nazis want her dead. But Papa Bear Daddy Nazi isn’t having his ‘little girl’ taken away.
The story is told in flashbacks from both Max and Lucia’s points of view during the War interspersed with present-day Vienna where Max’s cohorts are looking for the woman they believe can destroy them.
It was fitting that I watched this after reading about Playing with Taboo. I went into this film with no idea what I was in for, but there was a scene with a dozen or more Nazis in their impeccable uniforms and jackboots, sitting casually around inside an empty swimming pool, watching a male ballet dancer (Amedeo Amodio). Suddenly the idea of a scene of someone having to dance for Nazis or pay the price came to me.
The film is surprising (to an American viewer) in its casual attitude towards… well, many things—including male rape. Which at one point is happening off to the side as a way to set atmosphere for something else that is going to happen. Europe!
The dubbing is slightly off around half the time, as though the actors had to re-dub their lines. Otherwise, aesthetically, it was beautifully shot and acted. Amodio looked rather remarkably like Tom Hiddleston.
I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen…ever. And I cared about the happiness of a Nazi, so that was a first. It was perhaps the most twisted love story I’ve seen on film or even read.
There’s also a scene of Charlotte Rampling singing a Dietrich song for a bunch of Nazis whilst wearing over-the-elbow leather gloves, a Nazi peaked hat and pin-striped trousers held up by suspenders. And that’s it.
This one has sadomasochism, Daddy/girl themes, a little sploshing, and light bondage involving chains. For a film with Nazis in it there’s no violence (outside of the male rape, which the victim participated in to save his life.)
If you’re into those things it’s a must-see. 4/5