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" They also seek out and destroy incriminating documents. Still active murderers, they "file away" (kill) witnesses who might testify against them at genuine trials.
As Lucia checks into the hotel, she and Max spot each other. Both are obviously disturbed although neither says anything.
Each begins to think back obsessively about their love affair and we see several flashbacks. In the first flashback, Lucia is a frightened teenaged girl in a group of detainees. This appears to be the first encounter between she and Max. He films her and she automatically recoils from the camera. In another scene, Max films a group of adolescent females who are on swings attached to a carnival type of ride. In knee high socks, Lucia looks especially childlike.
In still another scene, Lucia and a group of other prisoners have been made to take off their clothes. Their forced nudity is humiliating and profoundly asexual. Again Max is filming and focuses on Lucia, a Lucia who appears anxious and embarrassed, holding her head down and folding her hands over her exposed genital area.
We see a flashback in which Lucia is bound, her hands in chains and the chains attached to the metal bars of a cot. Max slides his fingers into her mouth. In another scene, he deliberately wounds her arm, then kisses it. Her attitude is one of passive acceptance, an attitude that might be regarded as the essence of submissiveness. Her submissiveness is a perfect complement to Max's dominance and he appears entranced by it. When he hustles her away from her fellow prisoners, Lucia walks with a difficulty that suggests the malnutrition so common in Nazi camps.
There is a famous Night Porter flashback scene in which Lucia is dancing for her captors in what appears to be a small private bar. A still from this scene of Charlotte Rampling wearing a cap was used in advertisements for the movie and has been imitated by Madonna in the previously mentioned video. Lucia no longer moves haltingly but with grace. Her submission to Max and ability to entertain her captors has apparently brought her special favors that have restored her to physical health. Along with the aforementioned cap, she is attired in elbow-length dark leather gloves and a pair of oversized striped pants with suspenders. She is both barefoot and topless, showing Rampling's small, perky breasts to advantage. The exposure is no longer humiliating as was her nudity in the earlier scene as a detainee. Instead, it is the exposure of the stripper, paradoxically humble yet proud.
In the present, we learn from one of Max's war criminal friends that, during the war, Max "enjoyed playing at being a doctor" but that "none of his patients survived" except one whom we already know is Lucia. Thus, Cavani implies that female submission can be an effective survival stratagem.
But her submissiveness was not completely an act either for it is she who, in the present day, initiates their reunion. Max is confused to find her in his room and slaps her face several times but they are soon passionately kissing.
Both to her and to others, Max calls Lucia as "my little girl," indicating the parent-child or teacher-student relationship that is the paradigm for so many old-fashioned marriages and Lucia's increasingly childlike manner to some degree parallels the childlike behavior that Fascinating Womanhood and other traditionalist programs encourage women to display because many men are enchanted by it.
Overall, The Night Porter is a dark film in cinematography, plot, and spirit. Swept Away, both written and directed by Lina Wertm__ller, is a brighter effort in all of the same respects. Moreover, its ideology of male leadership and female obedience is far more explicitly articulated. It is also an odd film, combining as it does a left-wing economic critique with a right-wing sexual analysis.
The film is divided into three parts.