The Axis Powers Unite And Capture My Living Room. Now My DVD Player Is A Death Camp.
At first glance, there is very little to distinguish this film from the more traditional films that populate the small but enduringly popular Nazi-ploitation genre. It has all the traditional elements, the deviant sex, the bad dubbing, and the genital mutilation. However, upon closer examination, it becomes apparent that there is actually nothing to distinguish the film from the rest of the pack. For some reason, this film has become somewhat of a classic among film critics, so much so that it’s been released as part of the Criterion DVD collection. Not that I’m complaining. On the contrary, anytime I can see an SS officer having sex with a concentration camp victim on a bed of broken glass in an art film context, I’m a happy man. It just means I’m one step closer to having my tastes sanctioned by the mass media, and consequently one step closer to parole. Just kidding. They’re never letting me out. The Night Porter takes place in a 1950s Austria, in which the depressing post-war atmosphere is conveyed through dark, muted colors and poorly recorded dialogue. Dirk Bogarde plays an ex-Nazi, currently employed as a porter in a posh hotel. When he accidentally meets a survivor from his days running a concentration camp, played by Charlotte Rampling, the inevitable happens, namely they start doing the nasty in as many painful positions and situations as humanly possible, because as we all know, any resentment harbored towards Germans by Holocaust survivors is just repressed sexual tension. Bogarde and Rampling’s relationship, however, is doomed to failure, at the hands of Bogarde’s former associates. Bogarde’s character is part of a support group of former Nazis, who gather from time to time do whatever it is that Nazis do, presumably yell orders loudly like Colonel Klink and masturbate to pictures of burn victims. They also, clearly having seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound entirely too many times, engage is this weird Freudian exercise in which they take part in mock trials, bringing forth witnesses and evidence of their past crimes, after which both are eliminated. Bogarde refuses to either admit his crimes, or his renewed relationship with Rampling, a situation that eventually leads him to hole up in a hotel room for several weeks while his former friends wait outside in a car in a remarkably inefficient murder plot. Honestly, I don’t know how these guys got to the store and back to buy milk, let alone almost took over Europe, if they can’t even kill a 20 year-old girl and a drunken British actor. Were the door locking mechanism too complicated for our group of hitmen, or is there something I’m missing, like Nazis can’t come into a house unless they’re invited? Plot conceits aside, the film is actually quite a haunting experience, all the more so because I’m hoping it will lead to greater acceptance of the Holocaust as a gold-mine of exploitative and shockingly insensitive film and marketing premises. Just think of the possibilities. Schindler’s List action figures! An Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS Saturday morning cartoon! The “I Survived Auschwitz And All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt and a Serial Number Tattoo” clothing line! I tell you, there’s money, as well as art, to be made from other people’s horrific suffering, and credit goes to The Night Porter for showing us the way.
This film is considered by many to be Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, probably because after falling asleep at least three times during the last third of the film, no one had the stamina the sit through any more of his pictures. This is actually one of my least favorite of his films, and I’m usually a big fan. I know, I know, usually my militant anti-immigration/ethnic food stance usually prevents me from respecting the wide world of Asian cinema, unless I feel the urge to see a pre-teen get raped by a tentacle, but Kurosawa’s insistence on being more Western than Ronald McDonald drinking a Coke makes him an easier pill to swallow. Ikiru, however, deviates from the norm, making use of an unusual structure in telling its story, which follows an aged civil servant, Kanji Watanabe, who discovers he’s dying of stomach cancer. The civil servant is played by Takashi Shimura, a Kurosawa favorite who is apparently the only actor in Japan who isn’t Toshiro Mifune, and the first two thirds of the film follows him as he realizes that his life has been wasted on menial labor and pointless busywork. At first, he combats this realization with the decision to live the rest of his days in a haze of booze and debauchery. Sounds like fun, I know, because there’s nothing I’d like better than to spend by last nights on earth drunkenly pawing strippers, trying not to throw up, and pissing on my shoes in an alley outside an all night convenience store. And I’d imagine that nothing soothes a stomach cancer victim’s final days quite like a splitting headache and the taste of vomit mixed with sake lodged in your sinuses. After a while, Kanji gives up on the night life and starts hitting on a young woman, and going to the baseball stadium, a recurring theme in Kurosawa’s work as he desperately applied for cinematic American citizenship. This portion of the movie is actually fairly captivating, in a Frank Capra kind of way, and I would definitely rate it high on a list of the more competently executed character studies put to film. Then Watanabe dies. Off screen. And we’re treated to a forty-five minute funeral party in which his former co-workers reminisce about the dead civil servant. I don’t know about you, but I find live civil servants fairly uninteresting, let alone dead one. Let alone hearing about dead ones. I’m sure it’s all very touching and meaningful, but it all goes over like a sermon in church about the evils of pants with zippered flies. Nevertheless, judged on the merits of the first 90 minutes, the film is definitely worth watching, and on the bright side, you can spend the last half hour resting up for the long walk home from the theatre.