Wednesday, November 5, 2014

FOREIGN CORNER: The Vanishing (1988)

It boggles my mind why director George Sluizer would remake his own 1988 masterpiece, The Vanishing, and completely sabotage it with a cheap ending to appease American audiences. His original version is a chilling, minimalist exercise in mood and atmosphere, and the bleak ending is the only ending that makes any sense. The American version, which Sluizer helmed in 1993, is Network TV thriller quality in comparison.

I saw the American version as a teen, starring Kiefer Sutherland, Jeff Bridges, and Sandra Bullock. I imagine most did stateside. I was intrigued and enjoyed the picture, because I had no knowledge of the original's existence. The ending didn't bother me because I knew no better. But, after seeing the original film, the ineptitude of the remake is astounding, and what is even more astounding is the fact that Suilzer directed both and even decided to alter the original.

But, enough about the shoddy remake, what of the original?

The plot and the direction feel nearly identical through the majority of The Vanishing. Gene Bervoets and Johanna ter Steege play Rex and Saskia, a young married couple on holiday in France. As the film opens, they have a minor setback in their travels which leads to a domestic dispute, but they make up once they arrive at a gas station to grab beer and soda. This is when Saskia, who goes into the station while Rex waits by the car, vanishes into thin air. Rex grows increasingly concerned as it becomes evident Saskia has disappeared. He begs desperately with the owner of the station to let him get the coins from a coffee machine because their might be fingerprints of the abductor. He has a polaroid of Saskia leaving the gas station, but the distance is too far to discern any details.

This is when The Vanishing begins its parallel story lines. We go back and forth between Rex, three years later and still debilitated by Saskia's disappearance, and we meet the abductor several months before the incident. The abductor is Raymond (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), an unassuming family man hiding a serious sociopathic streak. The story tells us Raymond abducted Saskia very early, the rest of his story revolves around his method and his madness.

Eventually, Raymond approaches Rex, who has gone on television to plea for information about Saskia. Rex had a girlfriend who left him because she couldn't take his obsession anymore (although that same girlfriend hangs around for plot purposes in the American remake, another gross miscalculation).

I don't want to detail anymore of the story because the surprises, while individually minute, add up to a fascinating examination into the mind of a madman disguised as the patriarch next door. The Vanishing is moody and deliberately paced, dissecting the importance of closure versus impending doom. There is no direction for the film to go other than the direction it does go. And yet, Sluizer decided to completely change things for dumber American audiences.

But is that fair to audiences stateside? Are audiences here so fragile that they cannot deal with bleakness and despair? There have been nihilistic pictures in this country for years and years, so I will never understand why Sluizer decided to compromise his own brilliant vision to sell a few more tickets.

But then that explains it, doesn't it? More butts in the seats is more money in the pockets.