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TORONTO 2017 Contemporary World Cinema

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Disappearance: What’s left behind

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- TORONTO 2017: Dutch director Boudewijn Koole delivers a bleak, slow-burning drama on the effects of loss that really stirs the emotions

Disappearance: What’s left behind

Five years ago, Dutch director Boudewijn Koole gained an international reputation with his debut film, Kauwboy [+see also:
trailer
festival scope
film profile
]
, which won over 30 awards and was distributed in more than 20 countries. Last year, with Beyond Sleep, he won a Golden Calf for Best Director at the Netherlands Film Festival. His third feature film, Disappearance [+see also:
trailer
interview: Boudewijn Koole
film profile
]
, had its international premiere in the Contemporary World Cinema section of the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival.

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Every year, 33-year-old photographer Roos (Rifka Lodeizen) visits her mother, Louise (Elsie de Brauw), and her teenage half-brother, Bengt (Marcus Hanssen), in Norway. During this particular visit, there is heightened tension between them. Her relationship with her mother has always been extremely difficult and problematic, and now it’s got even worse, while Bengt can’t forgive her for her constant absence. Roos is more troubled than ever, and after a reunion with an ex-lover, Johnny (Jakob Oftebro), she reveals to him that she is terminally ill. Now Roos has to face up to the issue and decide how to share it with her family.

Disappearance is a slow-burning experience that needs the right space and time to create an intimate relationship with the viewer – and, fortunately, it delivers. Koole has created a delicate film, and by keeping its dramatic elements fairly understated, he allows the real drama to emerge and take hold. The script written by Jolein Laarman – who collaborated with Koole on writing Kauwboy – tries to explore the extremely fine line between presence and loss, arrival and disappearance, and life and death. More importantly, the questions that arise from this procedure are impossible to answer. What’s even more difficult is finding the right moment to express yourself and discuss something so sensitive, especially with those closest to you – those who will have to deal with the loss later.

The intense mother-daughter relationship, which is built up so accurately, is quite subtle and escalates the emotional tension. Thanks to the captivating performances of both Lodeizen and de Brauw, the film never hits any melodramatic notes, as it always feels realistic and full of substance. There might be a slight echo of Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata owing to the premise of the relationship, but this feels more like an honest homage. The visually stunning Nordic landscape, captured by DoP Melle van Essen, enhances the impact of the storytelling. The contrast of the frozen open spaces with the fragile and sensitive character of the film offers another level of intimacy that needs to be seen and felt, and is hard to simply describe. There is an almost cold precision in Koole’s execution, but the result feels extremely warm and poignant. Despite the bleakness of its subject matter, Disappearance leaves behind an unintentional glimmer of hope for the future.

Disappearance is a Dutch-Norwegian co-production by Ineke KantersJan van der Zanden (The Film Kitchen) and Joachim Lyng (Sweet Film), and was supported by the Netherlands Film Fund, the Netherlands Film Production IncentiveCoBOAVROTROS, the Abraham Tuschinski FondsEurimages, the Norwegian Film Institute and FilmCamp. The world sales are handled by Berlin-based Pluto Film.

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