The Bottom of Love

In 1974 an infamous film, which happens to be one of the great cinematic meditations on love, was released. It is called The Night Porter, and it was intended to be nothing more or less than a study of the uncivilized drama of perverse, inexpungible passion. The film was denounced as sadomasochistic Nazi porn. Its plot was, to be sure, disturbing, and the viewer had to conquer a significant degree of discomfort and even outrage to consider charitably and lucidly the film’s primary theme, which perhaps explains its reception and subsequent reputation. The extreme mise en scène of the movie disrupted audiences’ relationship with its astonishing story, and allowed them to evade the excruciating questions that it broached. This was particularly true of American audiences, to whom the film was repeatedly mis-explained by American critics. The Night Porter tells the story of Max, a former Nazi official who worked in a concentration camp, and Lucia, a former inmate of that camp. Lucia was imprisoned because her father was a socialist, and in the camp she and Max developed a sexual relationship. We learn all this in flashbacks. The movie begins in Vienna about ten years after the war’s end. Max works as a night porter in a hotel, where one day Lucia and her husband, a celebrated American conductor, coincidentally arrive to stay. Max is now a member of a ghastly ring of former Nazis who endeavor to obliterate evidence of their past crimes by assiduously collecting and destroying incriminating documents and murdering witnesses who could testify against them; they hold mock trials for one another as test runs to see if sufficient evidence has been eliminated for the members to survive a real trial if one were to be held. In the lobby of the hotel Lucia and Max

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