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The Vanishing (1988): The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

The Vanishing (1988) (Spoorloos) Dutch movie poster The Vanishing (Spoorloos)

US Theatrical Release: January 25, 1991 (Dutch Release: October 27, 1988) / Running Time: 106 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: George Sluizer / Writers: Tim Krabbé (novel The Golden Egg and screenplay) George Sluizer (adaptation)

Cast: Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu (Raymond Lemorne), Gene Bervoets (Rex Hofman), Johanna ter Steege (Saskia Wagter), Gwen Eckhaus (Lieneke), Bernadette Le Saché (Simone Lemorne), Tania Latarjet (Denise), Lucille Glenn (Gabrielle), Roger Souza (Manager), Caroline Appéré (Cashier), Pierre Forget (Farmer Laurent), Didier Rousset (TV Journalist), Raphaëline Goupilleau (Gisèle Marzin)

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The 1988 Dutch film The Vanishing (Spoorloos, natively) opens with Rex Hofman (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia Wagter (Johanna ter Stege) taking a long road trip across Europe. The attractive, young married couple
is carefree and deeply in love. That doesn't mean they don't fight; they do that when they run out of gas in a mountain tunnel. But most of the time, they're enjoying each other's company as they list animals whose names begin with a designated letter and exchange playful vows by a tree where they bury coins.

Unfortunately, Rex and Saskia's happy life together is about to hit a snag, when at a busy rest stop, Saskia disappears after she was supposed to buy them drinks and finally start doing some of the driving en route to Bois Vieux, France. It is at that gas station where the couple has the misfortune of crossing paths with Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), a thickly goateed Frenchman faking a broken arm. The film has already introduced us to him as a suspicious character, giving us strong reason to believe he is behind the young woman's disappearance.

Jumping around chronologically, The Vanishing shifts gears to focus on Lemorne, who at first glance appears to some kind of bigamist or cult leader. We eventually learn that he is actually a chemistry teacher and the three women living with him are his wife and two daughters. Family man or not, Raymond Lemorne is a creep whose transgressions are much worse than the affair his wife and daughter suspect him of having. Raymond has been preying upon unaccompanied women, monitoring his pulse religiously as he tries to stay calm while administering just the right amount of chloroform.

Dutch couple Saskia Wagter (Johanna ter Stege) and Rex Hofman (Gene Bervoets) enjoy a moment at the rest stop where Saskia will soon disappear in 1988's "The Vanishing."

We leap ahead three years and find that Rex is still missing his wife and consumed with knowing what happened to her. He has a new girlfriend, Lieneke (Gwen Eckhaus), but their lives are dominated by his tireless quest for answers, something he's been borrowing money to keep alive. Television appearances and frequently checked and replaced posters have made Rex none the wiser. The only thing of value he's gotten are postcards from what he thinks is the kidnapper, who never makes good on showing up to his scheduled meetings.

Shortly after Lieneke breaks up with him, Rex is approached by Raymond, who promises to reveal all to him, so long as he takes a ride with him to the location of Saskia's vanishing and doesn't try to harm him. Insisting there is no evidence to tie him to the crime, Raymond slowly shares his story, delaying the truth as long as he can.

That makes for an arresting climax that is by far the film's fastest moving sequence. Be forewarned, though, that this thriller does not have a typical happy ending in mind. This, after all, is not Hollywood.

Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) promises to give Rex (Gene Bervoets) the answers he has been craving for three years, but only on his terms.

An involving and well-made mystery, The Vanishing unsettles from Saskia's apparent abduction to its depressing finale. Adapted by Tim Krabbé from his 1984 Dutch novel The Golden Egg, it is reminiscent of the few Scandinavian noir films I've seen, but has a distinct identity of its own that reflects the time and place it was made.

The film did elicit some attention from the American film industry, after it was finally released to the US in early 1991. Director George Sluizer followed this up with Utz, an English language drama in the UK. He then came to America to make Dark Blood, a film derailed shortly before completion due to the death of actor River Phoenix. Sluizer next remade The Vanishing in America with a cast of Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland, Nancy Travis, and pre-stardom Sandra Bullock.
(It also recently made its North American Blu-ray debut and will be reviewed here shortly.) After that disappointed critics and moviegoers, Sluizer worked in different parts of the world (the UK, Portugal, Belgium, Germany) to diminishing returns. Finally completed in 2012, Dark Blood stands as Sluizer's final credit; he passed away last month.

The cast did not transition to English language cinema much, although ter Steege, making her debut here, did appear in the international 1990s dramas Immortal Beloved and Paradise Road and was cast in the Stanley Kubrick Holocaust film that was abandoned after Spielberg's Schindler's List materialized.

Though The Vanishing was picked as the Netherlands' 1988 submission for the Foreign Language Film Oscar, it was disqualified for its extensive use of French, which the Academy deemed unsuitable for a Dutch submission.

The Vanishing premiered on DVD in a September 2001 disc from The Criterion Collection. This week, it reached Blu-ray Disc still bearing spine number 133 and now joined by a few additional bonus features.

The Vanishing (1988): The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.66:1 Widescreen
1.0 LPCM Mono (Dutch/French/English)
Subtitles: English
Not Closed Captioned; Foreign Extras Subtitled
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $39.95
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Clear Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($24.95 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as Criterion Collection DVD (September 18, 2001)

VIDEO and AUDIO

For a nearly 30-year-old European film, The Vanishing looks terrific on Blu-ray. The 1.66:1 picture is so clear, sharp, and detailed. Close scrutiny reveals some minor imperfections, but they are not enough to rank this transfer as anything less than great. The LPCM 1.0 monaural soundtrack presents the film's mix of Dutch, French, and a tiny bit of English dialogue without any problems. The white English subtitles are easily read and grammatically sound.

Four months before passing away, writer-director George Sluizer recorded this interview reflecting on "The Vanishing." Johanna ter Steege, now 53, reveals she was all ready to quit "The Vanishing." Instead, this debut would win her a European Film Award.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray includes three HD video extras. First up come two English language interviews have been produced for this release. "George Sluizer on The Vanishing" (19:05) collects the director's reflections on making the movie.

Taped in May at his house, this could very well be the filmmaker's final interview. He discusses everything from casting to having difficulty securing a distributor.

Next, "Johanna ter Steege on The Vanishing" (14:24) gets the actress' recollections on getting the role, making the most of her 11 minutes of screentime, and being mistreated by co-star Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu.

Finally, we get the one item that joined The Vanishing on DVD: its 1989 French theatrical trailer (1:32), which calls the movie The Man Who Wanted to Know.

It seems like Red Desert Penitentiary, a little-known 1985 English language spoof of Hollywood filmmakers that Sluizer adapted from another Krabbé story, might have been a relevant inclusion, but either it was too tonally different or just not viable to clear. With just 16 votes on IMDb, it is Sluizer's most obscure feature as director.

The menu plays finite score and sound effects while a blue candle light flickers amidst blackness (a spoiler you couldn't recognize as one until finishing the movie). As always, Criterion kindly authors the disc to support bookmarks and to resume unfinished playback of anything and everything.

The final extra is found inside the clear keepcase, whose new cover art takes meaning with distance or squinting. A booklet unfolds to 8 pages, half of which go to credits, acknowledgements, transfer information, and a cover. The other four pages go to "The End of the Road", a rewarding new essay by Variety film critic Scott Foundas which replaces the original DVD's Kim Newman essay.

Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) dials up his creep factor to 11 in this shot from the closing scene of "The Vanishing" ("Spoorloos").

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Vanishing is a gripping mystery thriller. Creative, nonlinear, and chilling, this film is likely to stick with you long after its dated end credits score concludes.

Criterion's Blu-ray treats the film to a masterful restoration. Though bonus material is scant, the mostly new supplements make for valuable and worthwhile company.

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Reviewed October 29, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1988 StudioCanal and 2014 Janus Films, The Criterion Collection.
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