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Film review: Vanishing, The

Published: Monday, April 22 1991 12:00 a.m. MDT

There have been many thrillers over the years that have been described as "Hitchcockian," but I can't remember any that have made me feel the spirit of Hitch as strongly as "The Vanishing," a new French-Dutch co-production that boasts one unexpected twist after another, keeping the audience on pins and needles until the final frame.

The storyline couldn't be simpler, and yet director/co-screenwriter George Sluizer manages to slowly build one idea upon another in a way that is rare in movies today.

I'll try not to give too much away here since the surprising twists on thriller cliches help make this film so compelling. The film begins with a young Amsterdam couple on vacation in the south of France. They have apparently not been together for a long time as they are still getting to know each other, getting in tune with each other's rhythms.

At one point Saskia relates to Rex a terrifying recurring dream she can't explain, which really haunts her when their car runs out of gas in the middle of a deep tunnel.

Later, they stop at a park for a short time, and Saskia decides to go into a convenience store to get drinks. But she never returns. After awhile, Rex naturally becomes frantic and goes to the police.

Suddenly the film shifts its focus to the story of Raymond, an ordinary family man, a teacher who is also a self-absorbed intellectual. He is obsessed with the idea of good vs. evil and sets out to experiment with the possibility that he might have an evil side he has never tapped.

How Raymond's experiments tie into Saskia's disappearance makes for a fascinating game that eventually takes on cat-and-mouse proportions — but does not go down the roads you will expect.

The performances are uniformly excellent, with Johanna Ter Steege particularly affecting as Saskia, whose spirit hovers over the proceedings even during long absences from the screen. And Gene Bervoets as her tormented husband and Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu as Raymond, who reminded me here of Victor Buono, are also very good.

In some ways this reminded me of Hitchcock's "Rope" and "Strangers on a Train," about seemingly ordinary people who push themselves to find out just how much they might be capable of, as well as the innocents who become wrapped up in their schemes. In other ways, however, "The Vanishing" is utterly original, a wonderful little foreign-language gem.

And even those of you who dread subtitles should not shun this one — there are quite a few lengthy sequences with very little dialogue.

Though unrated, "The Vanishing" is in PG territory, with some violence and a few scattered profanities.

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