Jun 28, 2010

24 FPS Top 100 Films: No. 79

Click the title below for a trailer.

79: SPOORLOOS [1988]
[The Vanishing]
DIR: George Sluizer

This original version of The Vanishing is one of the more unnerving films I’ve ever seen. It’s not explicitly violent, there are no chases, no explosions, in fact there’s little real confrontation of any kind. Instead the film sets out to disturb, and it achieves that aim, thanks most of all to a justly famous ending that stays with you far beyond the end credits.

The film is about a young couple, Rex (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia (Johanna ter Steege) holidaying together, but when they stop at a service station Saskia goes missing, seemingly vanishing into thin air. Three years later Rex remains obsessed with the case, and with trying to find Saskia. On seeing a television report about Rex’ pursuit of answers the abductor (Bernard Pierre Donnadieu) begins writing to him, and offers to let him know what happened to Saskia. The catch? To find out the answer Rex will have to have the same experience as Saskia.

What’s really interesting about The Vanishing, from a visual perspective, is the fact that despite the darkness of its subject and its oppressive tone, the film takes place largely in the sunshine. This throws the audience off, because you don’t expect anything terrible to happen on the day of Saskia’s disappearance; a sunshiney summer’s day, nor do you expect it to happen the way it does; quietly, without anyone noticing, and from a very public place. It also works to heighten thee contrast when the film is plunged into darkness, most memorably in a very tense scene in which Rex and Saskia’s car breaks down in the middle of a tunnel and, of course, in that ending.

It’s hard to talk about this film without disclosing the ending, but I won’t because so much of its power is derived from its last few minutes. Suffice it to say that it is a genuinely terrifying rendering of one of the most nightmarish scenarios imaginable (and that it was royally fucked up in Sluizer’s own Hollywood remake).

The standout performance comes from Bernard Pierre Donnadieu (otherwise best known as the man that Gerard Depardieu may be impersonating in The Return of Martin Guerre), whose work as Raymond Lemorne is simply one of the most chillingly believable portrayals of a psychopath ever seen on screen. Outwardly he’s a genial family man, but Donadieu lets us see the layers hidden beneath that gentle fa├žade.

I shouldn’t say much more about this film, because I’d risk spoiling it for you. See it, and then let me know how long it was before you managed to get the last image out of your head.

Standout Scenes
There’s no visible threat in this scene, but because of the title of the film, and the expectation of what’s due to happen, it is a real nerve shredder.

Rex has to decide whether or not he’s going to drink the drugged coffee Lemorne is offering, whether or not he really needs to know what happened to Saskia.

The end
Perhaps the most purely disturbing ending to any film I’ve seen.

To buy this movie, and help out 24FPS at the same time, please use the links below. Thanks!
USA: Criterion DVD

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