DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
VANISHING, THE (SPOORLOOS) (director/writer/editor: George Sluizer; screenwriters: from Tim Krabbe's book The Golden Egg; cinematographers: Toni & Tom Kuhn; editor: Lin Friedman; cast: Johanna Ter Steege (Saskia), Gene Bervoets (Rex), Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu (Raymond Lemorne), Gwen Eckhaus (Lieneke): Runtime: 106; Metro/Golden Egg Film; 1988 - Netherlands/France)

 
"It is a superbly done suspense yarn."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Vanishing is a challenging psychological thriller about a nightmare that comes true and an obsession that leads to bizarre results. It makes the most of its tale by its vivid dream sequences and the masterly holding off of its inevitable findings until its conclusion, as it relies on the viewer becoming overwhelmed with curiosity to hang on until the end. It is a superbly done suspense yarn relating to what lengths someone will go to find out something that he feels he must know about himself. This tale is told without the usual horror film special effects. It consists of the real everyday situations, which makes the mystery seem even scarier.

The theme of disappearance has been attempted by many great directors (Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes), but it has never been done as spookily as it is here. It belies how strange life is and how relevant our dreams are.

A young couple, Saskia (Johanna Ter Steege) and Rex Hofman (Gene Bervoets), from Amsterdam are on a vacation to go cycling in the south of France, hoping to go to Bois Vieux. They are driving casually on the highway being very playful with each other and finally getting on each other's nerves with their teasing, evidently they are still getting to know one another and don't know each other's deadly sore points yet. Saskia tells him about a recurring dream that she is having about being lost and lonely in a golden egg and another where both of them are sealed in separate eggs and floating through the universe.

They run out of gas in the middle of a tunnel and despite her anxious cries of not wanting to be left alone, Rex leaves to go to the nearest gas station. Expecting the worst, there is a certain amount of surprise when everything turns out to be fine upon his return; though, she is irritated at him for treating her so unconscionably. They make up and are glad to stop at a service center and get their gas tank filled and get some refreshments. She goes to the toilet and returns to buy a Frisbee and they bury a few coins by a tree to mark the spot as a reminder of their holiday and he makes a promise that she insists on, that he will never abandon her again. When she goes back into the convenience store to get some liquid refreshments she never returns, seemingly vanishing into thin air.

There are no clues worth pursuing and the police offer little help, and three years go by with Rex becoming obsessed with finding out what happened. For him, it is like an intellectual jigsaw puzzle that he must compulsively put back together. He returns to the spot in Nimes with a new girlfriend, Lieneke (Gwen). They go to where the service station is and he puts posters out all over the town of the missing Saskia. His campaign results in his receiving 5 postcards from someone who claims to know what happened to her and who offers to meet him. Each time he goes to the designated spot of the meeting there is no one, but he feels the presence of someone there. Strangely he starts having the same dream as Saskia had about the golden egg, and he becomes even more obsessed with finding out what happened to her.

The audience is suddenly informed of who the kidnapper is and the film tells the story of Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), a middle-class science professor with a wife and two daughters. Raymond labels himself as a sociopath and is shown to be a very precise and intelligent man, living an ordinary life. He is obsessed with a defect he has in his personality, which he noticed when he was child. Raymond jumped for no reason at all from the balcony of his house, breaking his arm and losing two fingers in the fall. He also displayed courage by jumping off a bridge to save a young girl from drowning and became a hero to his family. Raymond is currently interested in exploring the depths of his evil side to balance the good deed he once did. The viewer sees how Raymond tries to clumsily lure a score of different women into his car without success until that fateful summer day, when he spotted Saskia.

Rex goes on a French TV program telling about the disappearance and how he had to borrow money to continue the investigation on his own, since the police have uncovered nothing. He pleads with the person who kidnapped her to come forward with some information as to her whereabouts. One day, near his home in Amsterdam, the kidnapper comes to meet him face-to-face and a cat-and-mouse game develops, as the two tangle with each other before going back to the spot of the crime in France.

The performances are particularly good from Gene Bervoets and Johanna Ter Steege. Bervoets becomes trapped in some kind of a Kafkaesque victim's role while Johanna Ter Steege gives the film an inner light that captures the prevailing mood of the mystery. She is so sweet, honest, and endearing, that the continuing curiosity Gene shows for what happened to her is very understandable. And, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu is perfectly credible as a self-absorbed psycho, someone who is devoid of passion. His crime is not sexually motivated even if he seems to only target pretty woman (he says that he does so because they don't expect to be victims). He becomes an example of how banal evil can be. What is the scariest thing is that his family does not see his dark side, as he is considered a good husband and father to the children and he fits so well into the community that no one would ever suspect him.

This film is so well-crafted, that it is easy to get carried away and think that more is being said than what has transpired. But in the simplicity of its story, it becomes easy to identify with the Amsterdam couple and feel caught up in their dreamworld which intermingles with their real-life. A film that is very much in the Hitchcock suspense mode.

REVIEWED ON 5/14/2000          GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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