[VIFF 2017] REVIEW: 'Disappearance'

Rifka Lodeizen as Roos in Disappearance, directed by Boudewijn Koole

Rifka Lodeizen as Roos in Disappearance, directed by Boudewijn Koole

I was wondering why the title was Disappearance until the very end of the film, and when the lights came on I definitely felt a little empty. It’s that feeling you get when films want to say something poignant but can’t quite put it together using sounds and images, but you really want to understand because it must be important.

Directed by Boudewijn Koole, and shortlisted for the Dutch entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars under the title Verdwijnen, the story follows photographer Roos (Rifka Lodeizen) and her attempts to reconcile with her estranged mother, Louise (Elsie de Bauw), a retired concert pianist, and her much younger half-brother, Bengt (Marcus Hanssen, in his feature debut), who has a talent for sound mixing. Roos has returned to her mother’s home in rural Norway during the winter, and she’s trying to find the right moment to tell them her big secret.

Using Roos’ photos, Louise’s music, and Bengt’s sounds, Koole is able to paint this really textured film with gorgeous shots of the Norwegian winter, but what is lacking from the film is an extraordinary emotional weight equal to the imagery. The acting is quite good, especially de Bauw as the cold Louise, but the characters don’t interact with each other much, which seems like a lost opportunity because the three leads play off each other so well and the dialogue between them both nuanced and deep.

There’s an excellent sequence in the film where the emotional tension between Roos and Louise suddenly turns physical, and in a fit of anger Roos storms off, only to accidentally hit a pregnant moose with her car. Louise comes to Roos’ rescue, and while they wait for further help in the car, they finally engage in a conversation that’s been dying to be had throughout the whole film, and it’s interspersed with images of the moose getting gutted and skinned and prepared for food, including a startling shot of the stillborn moose.

Koole pulls it off magnificently, and the juxtaposition between a defrosting relationship and making the most out of a dead moose really works. Unfortunately, there’s just too few of these cathartic and symbolic moments, and the amount of time Koole spends fawning over wintry sounds and landscapes could’ve been used more effectively elsewhere to tell what could’ve been a much richer story.

The ending is one of the weaker parts of the film. It’s another long, non-verbal sequence, and while we do get the sense that Roos and Louise finally understand each other, Koole once again interrupts the human connection with more shots of winter and shivering sled dogs. It’s beautiful, but it makes you wonder what he’s really aiming for.

Disappearance gets three stars out of four. 

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