The Vanishing Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
“You start with an idea in your head, and you take a step…then a second…”
Rex Hofman and his girlfriend Saskia are vacationing in France and traveling by car. She thinks they may need gas, but Rex drives on. A few hours later, the car peters out by a tunnel. Rex (Gene Bervoets, Dominique Deruddere’s CRAZY LOVE) goes off to get gas and apologizes the next day for leaving Saskia (Johanna ter Steege, in her debut; she would later appear in films by Robert Altman and Bruce Beresford) alone. They make up and agree to continue their trip.
They stop at a park and play Frisbee. They plant two coins in the ground to commemorate their love and togetherness. Saskia goes off to buy drinks at a convenience store. Rex thinks she’s taking an unusually long time and goes to search. When she doesn’t turn up, he leaves a note in the windshield telling her he went to look for her. She’ll never read it.
The story shifts to Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Yves Simoneau’s IN THE SHADOW OF THE WIND), who the viewer saw early on in his car and outside of the gas station. He has a loving family who he enjoys picnicking with him. It’s at one picnic that Raymond suggests his wife and daughters practice their loudest screams, which turns out to be a ploy to see if anyone nearby would hear the cries of a kidnapped victim. Later, he retreats to a barn to test chloroform on himself.
Three years pass and still Rex continues the search. Whether that’s perseverance or obsession doesn’t matter; he needs answers. He gets postcards in the mail asking him to meet the sender.
This is a story where lives crumble, lives deepen and lives suddenly stop. It illustrates how damaging being occupied can be and how sadistic a seemingly normal person can be. Just the way Raymond explains the motives for his actions (which are evil in an entirely new way) in such a casual way is enough to make you nauseous. (It’s easy to see why Stanley Kubrick thought THE VANISHING was the most terrifying film he had ever seen; he would later cast ter Steege in his abandoned ARYAN PAPERS.)
THE VANISHING (known as SPOORLOOS in its native Netherlands) is directed by George Sluzier (1972’s JOAO AND THE KNIFE), who adapted Tim Krabbé’s novella The Golden Egg (Krabbé also co-wrote the screenplay). Sluzier has a master eye and hand and carefully paces the thriller in a way that has since been unmatched (even by himself; Sluzier would remake the film five years later with Jeff Bridges and Keifer Sutherland and somehow lose all of the suspense).
THE VANISHING is jarring from the opening moments (how is it that the alphabet game—played on road trips to make time go by faster and with such innocent topics as Animals—can seem so unnerving?) and continues to make the viewer uneasy for the duration, until it reaches what is one of the most disturbing conclusions in cinema history.
Video: 1.66:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a wet-gate ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management, flicker, and jitter.”
This high-definition transfer of THE VANISHING looks fantastic and boasts excellent details, accurate colors and a natural feel.
Audio: French and Dutch Mono. Subtitles in English. “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35 mm magnetic track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX 3.”
The audio transfer is also without flaw and features clean dialogue and an atmospheric Henny Vrienten score.
George Sluizer (19:05): In this interview, recorded in May 2014, director Sluizer (who died just four months later) discusses the characters of and his approach to THE VANISHING.
Johanna ter Steege (14:24): ter Steege reflects on working on her first film, collaborating with Sluizer and effects the experiences had on her career.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a booklet featuring an essay by critic Scott Foundas.