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Schermer, V.L. (2007). Sexuality, Power, and Love in Cavani's the Night Porter: Psychological Trauma and Beyond. Psychoanal. Rev., 94(6):927-941.

(2007). Psychoanalytic Review, 94(6):927-941

Sexuality, Power, and Love in Cavani's the Night Porter: Psychological Trauma and Beyond

Victor L. Schermer, M.A., LPC, CGP, FAGPA

Ever since its release in 1973, Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter has been subject to mixed reviews, including its dismissal as “pornographic” for its sexual explicitness, and as “amoral” for “romanticizing” the Holocaust. Shane Dallman (2005), recalling such criticisms, concludes the opposite: “Disturbing? Unquestionably. Exploitation? As the term is accepted, no. This is not a Nazi film. Neither is it a sex film, a gore film, or a thrill show of any kind. This is a challenge … and a warning… to anyone who would dare explore the darkest realms of the human mind.” (pp. 2-3).

Indeed, in the present author's admittedly subjective opinion, the film sustains such a message with cinematic interest and artistic coherence three decades after its release. Its holding power appears to stem neither from its controversial eroticism nor from its unusual approach to Holocaust subject matter. Rather, the film endures because, while on one level it draws the viewer into a traditional cinematic narrative about two souls enmeshed in each other's lives and caught up in intrigue, it is also a film of social and artistic inquiry. It makes one think about troubling matters, such as whether a brutal sadist is capable of shame, guilt, and love and whether sex can ever be divorced from the subjugation of one person by another (or whether, more subtly, it involves collaboration for mutual surrender and the emergence of a felt sense of intimacy and consequent pleasure). The film also indirectly questions whether normative sexuality can be so readily distinguished from traumatic compulsion.

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