This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week.
RUNNING TIME: 107 Minutes
DIRECTOR: George Sluizer
WRITTEN BY: Tim Krabbé (Screenplay and Novel)
WHERE YOU CAN FIND IT: Netflix DVD. Amazon Instant.
I borrowed a copy from the Baltimore County Public library. It's a part of the Criterion collection.
PLOT: While on vacation, a young Dutch couple, Rex and Saskia, stop at a service station where Saskia goes missing. Three years later, a man approaches Rex and claims to be her abductor.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: The moment when Rex realizes what happened to Saskia will haunt you for days. I can't bring myself to give it away here, though, not even after a "Spoiler" warning.
Instead I'll have to go with the montage in which we see Raymond, a seemingly mild-mannered family man, fail again and again at finding an acceptable victim. The sequence somehow manages to be both comical and horrifying.
- The Vanishing was adapted from the novella The Golden Egg by Dutch Journalist and chess champion Tim Krabbé, who also received screenplay credit. Supposedly, he got the idea from an article about a woman who vanished. Fortunately the woman had simply boarded the wrong bus and was reunited with her family.
- While The Vanishing is the Dutch entry here, the film was disqualified as the Dutch submission for the Academy Awards because there was too much French dialogue.
- According to IMDB, Stanley Kubrick stated that The Vanishing was the most terrifying film he had ever seen.
- In 1993, George Sluizer directed an American remake of his film staring Jeff Bridges, Kiefter Sutherland and Sandra Bullock. It bombed in the box office and was criticized for tacking on a happy ending.
The Vanishing is a thriller that starts off by telling the audience everything they want to know. There is no mystery regarding who the villain is or how he plans to commit the crime. Early in in the film we learn that Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) is a wealthy family man who owns a remote piece of property where (it is heavily implied) he plans to take his victims. We even see Raymond use chloroform on himself and record how long the affects last. Everything is spelled out except for what happened to Saskia (Johanna ter Steege).
The film follows Rex (Gene Bervoets), who is searching for his missing lover. I have nothing against Rex as a character (although one has to wonder if he and Saskia would have remained together if she hadn’t been abducted), but he acts more as a guide than a hero, leading the audience down a path at the end of which we discover her fate.
The most intriguing portions of The Vanishing follow Raymond as he attempts to commit his crime, the way a determined student might attempt to complete a challenging school project.
Raymond isn’t Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter or Heath Ledger’s Joker. The audience never sees these other villains plan their crimes or struggle with the execution. To us they were born master criminals.
Imagine if a good portion of Saw was devoted to us watching Jigsaw construct his traps. We’d see him go to Home Depot, buy the chains and power tools, test his razor blades and barbed wire, become frustrated (and embarrassed) when they don’t work, and try again and again and again until everything was perfect. While he would be less god-like, he would appear more human and in a very unsettling way he would be more relatable.
Unlike Hannibal or the Joker, Raymond doesn’t succeed the first time or the second or even the tenth. Even though his crimes are less elaborate, he has to rehearse and later learn to improvise. It would be as if we saw Freddy Krueger practicing his one-liners in the mirror.
Raymond reminds me the most of Breaking Bad’s Walter White. Not just because they are both family men with beards and short hair but because they start out as intelligent but inept. The audience spends much of the story watching them struggle. They are both villains who start off out of their depths, but we see them become more effective until they are master criminals.
Had Raymond’s crimes been as iconic as Lecter’s or as gimmicky as The Joker’s, we might almost like him, the way we "like" other classic villains. However, the atrocities Raymond commits are much more realistic. One could imagine an outwardly peaceful man actually performing these horrors, and that makes him all the more terrifying.
Next week's country: Mali.
Next week's country: Mali.