Thursday, November 08, 2007

KBT Presents: THE VANISHING (Spoorloos)

The device of having a loved one (or a person you are counting on for one reason or another) disappear mysteriously is a device that has been used in many films over the years; most recently with both the classy Spanish horror film The Orphanage and stylish French melodrama A Very Long Engagement. In the 1980s there was Roman Polanski's Frantic (an underrated Harrison Ford film if there ever was one) and the 1970s Australian film Picnic at Hanging Rock is a personal favorite (and a previous KBT screening). If you go back the 1940s there is Carol Reed's The Third Man. And one of the earliest and best examples is all the way back to 1938 with Alfred Hitchcock's classic The Lady Vanishes. The conceit works time and again because disappointment and loss are two things that we as human beings try to avoid at all costs (while knowing deep down that it is inevitable). If this happens suddenly and (here is the dramatic kicker) without any sort of explanation, well, you generally get peoples attention. We just like closure.

When considering the examples given above, I don't know of any filmmaker who spun this particular concept every which way (until finally pulling it through itself) quite like the 1988 French-Belgian thriller The Vanishing. The film is set in mundane and unromantic French locales, such as highway rest stops and urban cafes and takes place almost entirely during the day. When Rex and Saskia, a young normal couple, are stop at a gas station along the highway en route to a vacation destination, Saskia disappears. Nobody saw anything. No signs or clues are anywhere. Did Saskia leave the relationship impulsively? Was she kidnapped? These questions (and other possible scenarios) haunt Rex for a long time after. There is nothing or nowhere to investigate. There is no sign of closure. Time passes, but Rex cannot move on. He will do anything for an explanation of just what happened. And because this is a film, the opportunity arises. It's not what you think.

George Sluizer's boundary busting thriller turned a lot of heads (for such a tiny film) for its very non-standard thriller structure. It's bright and sunny and mundane and deliberately paced. Little happens because there is little to happen. Nonetheless it has a very effective way of getting under the skin as any difficult mystery (especially when there are high emotional stakes, such as the loss of a loved one) niggles deep into the brain preventing a return to normalcy and sabotaging any attempt to move on with life. This is great cinema.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw a great film today called UNSPEAKABLE it was screening at Culver Studios. Does anyone know where I can buy it or find more info on it? The director is Marquette Williams he did a doc a few years ago called Buckle Brothers. It also stars Elimu Nelson. Man it was so scary. It took me to the edge but never pushed me over. This guy is like super dope but I can’t seem to find his film on Netflix. I only found a youtube clip of the film but check it out! or

5:21 p.m.  
Blogger Henrik said...

I found this movie pretty damn boring when I saw it, but I stuck out for the amazing ending (which was spoiled for me, by the film professor on the Se7en audio commentaries. Should people be able to sue for something like that?).

10:11 a.m.  

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