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The Criterion Collection presents
Saskia: "My nightmare. I had it again last night."
DVD ReviewWith all of the heinous monsters and demons brought to life by filmmakers, why is it that the most frightening creations are those that are the most human? Monsters can scare us, but it is the real-life homicidal sociopath, the kind that blend into the scenery, that are truly the most horrifying. Dutch director George Sluzier's 1988 thriller L'Homme qui voulait savoir (The Man Who Wanted To Know), which was also known in Dutch as Spoorloos, or The Vanishing, is one such film that perfectly sculpts a believably troubling story of heart-pounding fear and murder. Sluzier worked from a screenplay by Tim KrabbČ, who wrote the novel The Golden Egg, on which this film is based.
On its most basic level, The Vanishing is a story of how the dark hand of fate can sweep down at any time, directed by a series of seemingly unrelated events. Rex (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia (Johanna ter Steege) are a young Dutch couple traveling by car through France on an intended cycling holiday. While stopped at a crowded rest area/service station, Saskia runs in to get a couple of cold drinks for the road, while Rex waits by the car. Saskia never returns.
In the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock, Sluzier goes against the grain of most typical suspense films, by simultaneously revealing the presence and identity of an apparent kidnapper, as Rex and Saskia arrive at the service station. With his phony arm cast, hulking Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) is quite obviously an understated threat as we are shown him anonymously lurking among the crowd at the service station, searching for prey. When Saskia eventually vanishes, it is quite clear what has happened to her, though we, the viewers, do not actually witness anything.
An obviously distraught Rex, after finally realizing Saskia has disappeared, begins what will become a frantic odyssey to discover what has happened to her. His obsession will eventually lead him unwittingly into a game of cat-and-mouse style encounters orchestrated by Lemorne. Rex wants and needs to know what happened to Saskia, and as the years go by, he remains committed to finding the truth, at literally any price.
Sluzier continues to buck tradition by shifting gears to focus on Lemorne, and his "normal" life with his wife and two children. It is very eerie to see Lemorne, with his calm exterior, testing the effects and duration of chloroform on himself. A particularly haunting sequence, shot from above, shows Lemorne practicing his abduction techniques, and it is truly chilling.
Unlike Sluzier's own absolutely horrible Hollywood remake in 1993, which featured big name, recognizable faces like Jeff Bridges, Keifer Sutherland and Sandra Bullock, his original French/Dutch production features a solid cast of unfamiliar players that only heighten the palpable sense of suspense. Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu is a study in calm, controlled aggression as Lemorne, while Gene Bervoets' Rex slowly becomes a distant, obsessive shell whose own life becomes a mission to discover the fate of his beloved. Johanna ter Steege's Saskia is a completely likeable girl, with a quick and easy smile, and when Sluzier finally reveals her abduction, told in flashback, it is achingly powerful.
Another unusual element that the director incorporates is the use of radio commentators discussing the Tour de France bicycle race, which appears sporadically in the background during sequences with little or no dialogue. Analogies with regard to the "battles" between two of the main racers, is an obvious parallel between Rex and Lemorne, and it is all the more apparent through the English subtitles.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Criterion has issued The Vanishing in it's original aspect ratio, as a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As is typical with the care shown to so many Criterion titles, the digital transfer for this disc was made from a 35mm low-contrast print, culled from the original negative. The end result is a print that is practically blemish-free. Colors come across a bit subdued, however I would not go so far as to describe them as washed out. Flesh tones, too, are rather soft, yet consistent for the duration. Some minor compression artifacts and ringing, especially in sequences featuring striped shirts, do little to detract from the viewing experience.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: We are presented with the film's original mono French-language audio track, here mastered from a 35mm magnetic track. This is not a film that requires a resonant, enveloping sound field to enhance the experience, and the adequate mono, with the requisite optional English subtitles, works perfectly. Dialogue, though French and Dutch, is clean and without distortion.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: Unfortunately, The Vanishing does not contain much in the way of supplementals. A 3-page fold-out insert features a far too brief analysis of the film and George Sluzier by Kim Newman. The remaining extras consist of a full-screen French language theatrical trailer, new and improved English subtitle translation, Criterion's standard color bars, and 24 chapter stops.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsGeorge Sluzier's The Vanishing is easily one of the most hypnotic, disturbing films ever made. This is a subtle, frightening battle of wits between hunter and hunted, and Sluzier has effectively created a genuinely scary film. This is the sort of memorable storytelling that will haunt you for days. Note: Do not be fooled into watching Sluzier's pathetic 1993 Americanized remake, which completely bastardized the integrity of the original work.
This Criterion release is highly recommended.
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