The Film:  The Vanishing (1988)

The Principles:  George Sluizer (Director).  Tim Krabbe (Writer).  Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets, Johanna ter Steege.

The Premise:  When a young woman, Saskia (ter Steege) seemingly vanishes into thin air, her husband Rex (Bervoets) obsessively spends the next three years trying to uncover what happened to her.  Everything comes together when her kidnapper (Donnadieu) introduces himself.

Is It Good:  Yes, absolutely.  Although the odds are certainly in your favor when you pick up a movie that has “THE CRITERION COLLECTION” emblazoned on the cover.

But, admittedly, I found myself wondering just how I felt about it once the credits rolled.  It’s not good in what one might call a “traditional” sense.  The story sort of meanders along, going to great lengths to fill you in on every single minute detail that it possibly can.  It’s certainly a mystery, but what it offers up aren’t clues (for the most part, the solution to the mystery is revealed to the audience within the first twenty or so minutes).  Instead it chooses to inundate you with information, some of it completely pointless to the story and sometimes several times over.  Meticulous is a word that comes to mind.  Perhaps overly so.  And when it finally does come to what should be the climax, it just ends.  Abruptly and matter-of-factly.  Without any sort of closure or explanation. 

But, believe it or not, these are all good things.

The Vanishing is a movie that, on its surface, seems to deliver a “dangers of obsession” message, but in a lot of ways that sells the film short, turning it into a Lifetime Movie Network cliché.  Rather than feeling the need to warn the audience, it instead chooses to lead us through the process.  Letting us look over Rex’s shoulder as his exhaustive, three-year search for Saskia consumes his entire life, snuffing out practically every other facet of it.  And while these things aren’t mined for drama or tension, they’re incredibly engaging.  You find yourself at odds with how you feel about what he’s doing.  And as the story progresses and you see the choices that both men make (both referring to Rex and Saskia’s kidnapper), you’re not necessarily placed on the sidelines as a spectator, where you can question or condemn the moves they make. You’re in a position to understand them.  And because you’ve been led through the process on both sides, you start to feel the same compulsion that they do and you’re left wondering if you wouldn’t have made the exact same choices, had you been put in their place.

It’s a feeling that’s made all the more powerful once you see how it ends.  A lot of people take issue with the ending, for a lot of the same reasons that they take issue with the final moments of No Country For Old Men.  I, admittedly, had some of the same issues here, but this is a film that requires a bit of thought and digestion and is better served by a bit of distance from your initial viewing.  It’s not a movie that uses its ideas to serve the narrative, but rather uses and manipulates the narrative to express its ideas.

Is It Worth A Look:  Yes and the sooner the better.  It’s a little long but it rarely felt bloated.  Again, any excess seems to be exactly the point.  Everybody turns in a wonderful performance and Sluizer is able to pull a lot of simple beauty out of some of the more mundane areas of rural France.  It’s available on Instant at the moment, so if you have access to that I’d strongly recommend adding it to your queue.

Random Anecdotes:  Donnadieu‘s beard is magnificent.  Also, and this may have been touched on a bit more in the original book, there seemed to be just a hint of sexual tension between the kidnapper and his daughter – little glances here and smiles there.  It may not have been intentional but it certainly helped to add an extra layer of nuance to that character.  I’d be surprised if it turned out that Buffalo Bill’s “moving a couch with a broken arm” routine in Silence of the Lambs wasn’t lifted part and parcel from this.  And apparently Sluizer remade this film for Hollywood in ‘93.  I haven’t seen it but from what I’ve read about it, he should leave that business to Michael Haeneke.

Cinematc Soulmates:  No Country For Old MenGone Baby Gone.



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