When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.
This film exemplifies many things I like to see in films but rarely get enough of. Often times in Hollywood films we get interesting concepts that never live up to their full potential. In The Vanishing we get a film that forgoes cheap thrills and pace to examine the characters involved in a very thought-provoking way and it manages to achieve a greater level of creepiness than most American films would. After having first watched this film I was looking around in all directions as I walked around and here’s why: One of the first things that strikes you is the music. There’s a deep bass and it doesn’t overly-anticipate the moment but still highlights the film with an overtone of foreboding which is just magnificent. And as this word could apply to the film as a whole it is especially significant in the antagonist; subtlety. Played by Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Raymond Lemorne is a great villain because he’s believable, well defined and most frighteningly in the end we even understand him and worse yet he seems real.
Another thing this film has going for it is the way the film isn’t told chronologically. We first see the vanishing and the desperate search in the first few hours, then we are introduced to Lemorne, peg him as the man, see his routine and see that three years have gone by. All throughout the film we will skip through time for large periods. The disappearance of Saskia will be filled in over and over again until the actual events are seen through their entirety. And the last piece only falls into place at the very end.
Amazingly, with this unusual structure the film is not hard to follow in the least and certainly much more intriguing then the conventional linear plot we’re used to seeing in the United States. The ‘reality’ of these events are set up in many way by director George Sluizer. Firstly, there was great used of subjective camera and the ‘Zero Degree Style’ common in the States is completely abandoned.
The other touches of reality come as we delve into the two main characters: Rex and Raymond. Raymond, the criminal, is first only seen in a very one-dimensional manner. We see him as a fraud who seems to be scoping out the store for possible victims. Then later in the story we see him begin to formulate his plan, to perfect it over and over again. The one scene where we see him as a biology teacher is just enough to show us that these people could be anyone and can fool you so easily. There is also the scene where Rex is waiting for him at the restaurant. Rex says he’s waiting for Mr. Montmejan and that happens to the waiter’s name. The commonness of the name adds profound statement about the plausibility of the plot.
The tension of the film is also aided by McGuffins, or botched attempts by the professor. In one scene we see him pick up a young girl, we know already that him locking the door is where he makes his move and poisons the girl but it’s his daughter. He also runs into a former student of his and tried to get her in his car and we see a chilling example of how he may have escaped justice for so long for even when someone calls him on it their content to just get away. There’s also the scene where Raymond is out of focus in the background as Rex looks around for him. This is also another great scene of anticipation.
Rex’s relationship with Lieneke and also his quest are also quite believable. He reaches a point where all he seeks to know is the truth. The Vanishing is also greatly helped by some really good dialogue. The image of the Golden Egg as related by Saskia through her dream sort of predestines the film in a way as we’ll see they both have the same fate, however, that is not a fault of the film. I firmly believe that there are only so many ways a story can end and it’s not how it ends that always matters but how you get there. The Vanishing is a toned down psychological thriller that’ll get under your skin. It’s a film that’s had my imagination captive for a week. It’s not only a prime example of a psycho-thriller but also of well-structured and executed character studies. It’s a great achievement.