A highpoint of edgy Euro cinema in 1974, Liliana Cavani’s Holocaust-themed love’n’sex story still unsettles. But to what end? Is it a genuine exploration of its subject? Or does it use its theme as a base on which to erect something tawdry? At any rate, in 1957 Vienna, a concentration camp inmate (Charlotte Rampling) encounters the former SS officer (Dirk Bogarde) with whom she had a sadistic affair in the camps. He’s now working fastidiously as a porter, but they soon pick up where they left off. Themes of guilt and captor/captive S&M tensions are touched on, as are issues relating to how extreme circumstances can produce extreme actions. But the central, sentimentalised relationship sits oddly with its more serious contentions.
On the DVD extras interviews, Cavani says Bogarde was interested in the love story, while she was interested in the themes underpinning it. That tension leaves the film at sea, drowning in its decadence.