The Vanishing. 1988. Directed by George Sluizer. Screenplay by Tim Krabbe based on his own novel The Golden Egg. Starring Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets, and Johanna ter Steege.
Unrated. 106 minutes.
★★★★ (Blu ray/Criterion release)
George Sluizer’s The Vanishing is almost deceptively simple when it comes to plot: Rex Hofman (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia Wagter (Johanna ter Steege) are on holiday traveling by car, but after they stop at a gas station and she heads inside he never sees her again. Panicking, Rex does everything he can think to do at first, however, it seems no one remembers seeing Saskia, nor can they can remember anyone suspicious hanging around.
Cut to three years later: Rex is still obsessed with what happened to Saskia, naturally, and cannot let it go without some kind of closure. Soon he meets a man named Raymond who says he knows what happened to Saskia. From here, things come together while also slowly falling apart.
I think, for me, one of the enduring reasons I love The Vanishing is due to the fact the plot is fairly simplistic, it even resembles the premise of many other films, yet there is a great tension throughout and things certainly do not go as we might expect. Another particular part of the film I really enjoy is how well Sluizer sets up the relationship between Rex and Saskia, and also how quickly the plot begins; there is no messing around. We get a real sense of Rex and Saskia as a couple, but Sluizer wastes no time in getting to her disappearance. Often there are films with characters central to the plot who don’t actually spend much time on-screen. In those situations, we don’t usually connect with a character like that. In The Vanishing, Saskia is one such character who is vital to the film’s plot but of course vanishes within 15-20 minutes. Contrary to similar films, Saskia does not vanish in the sense we forget about her. One thing which makes this movie great are the performances, and Johanna ter Steege does a fabulous job with the small amount of screen-time she does get.
Aside from Steege, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu and Gene Bervoets each do an amazing job with their respective characters. Donnadieu particularly creates a fantastic character who is chilling, but also feels much like a regular person; the part about Raymond Lemorne that really digs claws into me; he could be anyone really. Once we get a real look into his mind things get very creepy, more and more as time passes. I also think the story serves Raymond’s character very well because we really get a good look at what it might be like for an actual kidnapper. Lemorne goes through all the motions of preparation from practicing scenarios on his own trying to figure out how to lure a woman into his vehicle, to timing his heart rate so that he might keep his cool under any and all circumstances. These moments combined with Donnadieu’s stonefaced demeanour really puts the character over the top – in the best of ways.
There are just some really elegant, wonderful shots Sluizer uses here I can never get enough of each time I see the film. One is when Rex is at the cafe with his new girlfriend Lieneke; the kidnapper has been sending him postcards asking to meet at a cafe, but never shows when Rex does. As the camera slowly swirls around Rex it turns to reveal the kidnapper standing on his veranda, watching the two of them. Of course Rex still does not realize. It’s one of those perfect scenes; then the kidnapper comes right out and sits next to Rex and Lieneke. Chilling, creepy stuff. Just one example of some amazing scenes in The Vanishing. Sluizer really pulled out al l the stops here. I love every last bit of the cinematography in this film. There is an almost dreamlike, nostalgic feel drizzled over many of, if not all of, the scenes.
The Blu ray itself from the Criterion Collection is outrageously good looking. The print is cleaned up beyond belief; I remember when I first saw this, it still looked beautiful but there was certainly a grainy, gritty quality to it. The restored print makes everything look as fabulous as Sluizer intended. There are bits of music, but I find some of the best moments are very quiet and need no score to supplement the tension happening. As for Special Features, I’m not particularly thrilled with the amount of what’s present on The Vanishing release. It’s decent enough, and I’m glad to have a great print of this fantastic thriller, but they certainly could’ve dug up a little more to put in here. That being said, there is a nice newer interview with Sluizer included on the release, as well as one with Johanna ter Steege. Also, they’ve included an essay from Variety critic Scott Foundas; while I don’t particularly give a shit about Variety in general, I think Foundas wrote a pretty decent essay, which is more than worth reading. I can safely give the Criterion Blu ray release a 4 out of 5 stars. Definitely a great release, I just wanted something a little extra.
Overall, I can say George Sluizer’s The Vanishing is a perfect film. I don’t see anything wrong with it because Sluizer does a great job with the already wonderful story, adapted into screenplay by the author of said story, which in turn is a well-thought out tale. There are many times I see criminals, in particular kidnappers, in films where I’m thinking to myself – how would they do this, or go about that, et cetera. Here, with the incomparably terrifying villain, we get a lot of those “what if” scenarios played out by watching Raymond Lemorne prepare himself to eventually kidnap someone for real. Not to mention the entire film is just beautiful to look at, the dialogue is great, and Sluizer manages to keep up a level of tension that is sustained from the beginning right through to a horrifying end. I cannot recommend this film enough, and certainly – those of you who do love this one as I do, you will not be disappointed by the quality of the Criterion release, regardless if you’re completely satisfied with the amount of features provided. Quality movie, great release.