Vanishing, The (1988)

As far as European crime mysteries about disappearances are concerned, this is one of the most unforgettable flicks of the ‘80s—a psychological thriller with an exacting disposition and a denouement that will haunt you for weeks.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review #2,460

Dir. George Sluizer
1988 | Netherlands/France | Crime/Drama/Mystery | 106 mins | 1.66:1 | Dutch & French
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets, Johanna ter Steege
Plot: Rex and Saskia, a young couple in love, are on vacation. They stop at a busy service station and Saskia is abducted. After three years and no sign of Saskia, Rex begins receiving letters from the abductor.

Distributor: Studiocanal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Disturbing – Disappearance; Torment
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

An antecedent to more well-known American films like Prisoners (2013) and Gone Girl (2014), The Vanishing is one of world cinema’s most haunting crime mysteries. 

A Dutch-French co-production directed by George Sluizer, who was best known for this film—and who ignominiously remade it in English five years later—The Vanishing is a marvel of creative storytelling, adapted from the novella ‘The Golden Egg’ by Tim Krabbe. 

The entire film has an exacting disposition, operating like an investigative procedural though it isn’t quite one in the purest sense as there is no police work in this one, nor is the criminal’s identity kept hidden for strategic purpose or suspense.  

This precise style very much mirrors both the protagonist and antagonist’s dogged pursuit of the truth and self-gratification respectively, and by giving both similar screen time, we begin to see how this enriches the characters tremendously.  They are two sides of the same coin—charming, persistent and patient. 

“Either I let her go on living and never know, or I let her die and find out what happened.”

Rex is on vacation with his girlfriend, Saskia, when she suddenly disappears.  Cue three years later as Rex (still in investigative mode) is contacted by Raymond, the abductor, hoping to pique his curiosity as to what had happened to Saskia. 

The less you know about how it plays out, the better.  The disquieting nature of The Vanishing left me thinking about it for weeks, raising questions about whether it is better to ‘let go’ or to find closure. 

The film may be about a disappearance, but anyone who has ever experienced a loved one leaving you suddenly would at least appreciate, however perverse, its exploration of the tension between eternal torment and solace seeking.

Grade: A



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