Released in 1988, this original version of The Vanishing was out four years before the Hollywood remake starring such talented actors as Jeff Bridges and Keifer Sutherland, plus the questionable talents of Sandra Bullock. This version was originally titled Spoorloos and is a superior film for its ability to create a better atmosphere and edgier relationships between the two main characters. It won Best Film at the 1989 Sydney Film Festival.
Rex Hofman (Gene Bervoets) and his partner Saskia Wagter (Johanna ter Steege) are on a driving holiday through France, complete with bicycles attached to the roof of their car. Their relationship appears quite strong, but a small incident early in the film highlights the intensity of the couple.
Arriving at a highway filling station that is constantly crowded with tourists, Saskia heads off to the bathroom and to grab some cold drinks, while Rex takes a happy snap or two, and waits - and waits, and waits...
It is not too long before he heads into the filling station shop to look for her, but no one save the girl at the counter remembers her, and even then it is just a fleeting memory of a girl at the coffee machine, who then left with a man. Rex is unable to comprehend the situation, and is soon frantic as he searches the toilets, the large shop and the filling station forecourt, calling her name – to no avail.
The film forwards three years, and Rex has a new girlfriend but is still haunted by his memories of Saskia, and more importantly, is tormented by the need to know what happened. He has waged a three-year campaign to contact anyone who may know, especially the man she was spotted leaving the filling station with – a man who has made several attempts over the years to contact him, and a man that we, as an audience, are introduced to over the course of the film. Rex puts up posters, distributes flyers, takes out newspaper ads and even appears on television appealing for the man to have the courage to come forward.
Eventually the man, Raymond Lemorme (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), confronts Rex, and promises to tell him all, so long as he accompanies him back to France. Rex agrees, and the journey allows us to see further into the psyche of this mysterious man. In France, he offers Rex the chance to learn of Saskia’s fate, but Rex must agree to take the same journey. Rex is desperate for answers, and after three years has the chance to learn all, but at what cost?
The Vanishing is a minimalist film without elaborate sets, scenes or costuming. Typical of European psychodramas, it is dialogue-driven at a steady pace, and becomes increasingly more engrossing as piece after piece of the puzzle is revealed. The climax is not reached until the final few minutes, when there is an almost gentle and understated handling of a rather intense end to the story that is very effective.
The Vanishing is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.75:1, but is not 16:9 enhanced. Overall the image is quite good, with a fair level of definition and sharpness. Colours are somewhat muted, but this is intentional I suspect. There are no problems with noise, colour bleeding or edge enhancement. Black levels are acceptable, though natural lighting is used throughout the film, and shadow detail varies.
There are a few negative artefacts in the way of white specks, but these are not very distracting. There is no layer change, but there is an obvious jump in the film at the 80 minute mark as if a number of frames have been removed. It is not during dialogue so it could have been worse.
This is a very unimpressive audio track, with just one option available - Dutch/French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. English subtitles are provided (amongst a swag of others), and are bright and easy to read. Other than that, there is not a lot to report. The audio is a little on the soft side, but synchronisation is fine. There is not a great range and while all action and dialogue is audible, it is not exactly crystal clear, and there is some slight background hiss evident, especially in the quieter scenes.