Thursday, 7 September 2017

DISAPPEARANCE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2017: Sex, Death & Ice-Fishing in Norway

Disappearing in Norway.

Disappearance (2017)
Dir. Boudewijn Koole
Scr. Jolein Laarman
Starring: Rifka Lodeizen, Elsie de Brauw, Marcus Hanssen, Jakob Oftebro

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I do so enjoy entering a frigid cinematic icebox to revel in the spectacle of a parent and adult child acrimoniously slashing away at each other.

Boudewijn Koole's extraordinary film Disappearance is a magnificent new entry into this time-honoured/tested/proven tradition exemplified most notably by the chilly heartbreak of Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece of mother-daughter sniping, Autumn Sonata. Though Koole's film eschews the glorious histrionics of so many films in this genre - think Piper Laurie chastising Sissy Spacek for revealing her "dirty pillows" in Brian DePalma's Carrie or the horrid Gladys Cooper browbeating Bette Davis into a nervous breakdown in Irving Rapper's Now Voyager - Koole and screenwriter Jolein Laarman serve up plenty of roiling bitterness.

We enter the world of this film via the blazing austerity of a cool white light upon a young woman, a child it seems, as she places her diminutive, but nimble fingers upon the ivory keys of a grand piano. She launches into a soulful virtuoso performance upon the massive stage of a concert hall. Soon after, we move from the proscenium vista to the external panoramic landscape of the snow-covered plains, lakes and hills of Norway. Roos (Rifka Lodeizen) is coming home after a year of traversing the globe as a photojournalist to visit her Mother Louise (Elsie de Brauw) and younger half-brother Bengt (Marcus Hanssen).

This is a family of artists. Roos has the "eye", her middle-aged Mom (the pianist we were first introduced to in the film's opening minutes) clearly has an "ear" (though now she channels her art into teaching music) and young Bengt might have the grandest vision of this trio - he utilizes the natural sounds of water, ice, nature, heartbeats and breath to create electronic musical compositions that soar with soulful invention.

Sister and Brother have a special bond, but Mother and Daughter's relationship is stretched far too tautly - at any moment, we sense that the rubber band that is their familial conjunction will snap upon their respective grips, effecting a pain that smarts, but lasts well beyond the initial paroxysm it causes. That's probably because aching convulsions twixt Mother and Daughter have seemingly existed from that point when Roos first agitated about in the natal gelatin of Louise's womb.

At one point, Roos charges that Mom never sang lullabies to her. Louise pooh-poohs this assertion, but when her now-adult child asks her to sing for her, middle-aged Momma can't think of a single tune. During this wrenching moment, a smile crept upon my face imagining Louise launching into a rendering of one of Gustav Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. I was not afforded the literal rendering of this perverse fantasia dancing across my cerebellum, but the notion that she might have belted out one of those rousing "Songs on the Death of Children" seems (seemed) perfectly appropriate.

In so many, many ways, Koole and Laarman's astonishing film might well be a cinematic equivalent to Mahler's immortal song cycle. Death looms large in this Norwegian winter wonderland. When a stag connects with a moving vehicle and staggers off into the woods, we follow a group of locals (including a keen, rifle-toting Louise) as they hunt down the mighty beast to put it out of its misery. Later on, in post-coital bliss (in the back of a van parked against a snowy vista on a frozen lake in which they've been ice fishing - what Canadian doesn't know this activity/setting all too well?), Roos admits to her old friend and lover Johnny (Jakob Oftebro) that she is dying. Nothing beats a good round of sexual gymnastics than an après orgasm cigarette and an admission of critical illness. (Jesus, I love European cinema!)

Healing and redemption are round the corner, but they prove to be fleeting. The film makes us (and its characters) work for it. Nothing in life comes easy. So too should it be in cinema. This is a film that teases and tortures the raw nerve endings of the human condition and it constantly finds ways to take our collective breath away when we least expect it. The final third of the film had me shuddering, long, long after its final end title credit. It's with me still and makes me thankful for the life I have had and the loves I have experienced (and continue to be touched by).

Though Disappearance draws considerable parallels to Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sontata, I cannot help but think of the words spoken by dying Agnes in the Swedish Master's Cries and Whispers:

"Come what may, this is happiness. I cannot wish for anything better. Now, for a few minutes, I can experience perfection and I feel profoundly grateful to my life, which gives me so much."

No arguments from this fella'.


Disappearance is screening at TIFF 2017