Movie Review: Disappearances


I returned to the majestic Brattle Theatre tonight to see the area premiere of Disappearances. Set in Vermont’s Northeast kingdom in 1932, this movie is kind of a mystical magical realism family adventure. In other words, as the credits rolled I said to myself “I don’t get it.”

The story as best I can reckon is about crazy Quebec Bill (Kris Kristofferson) a fun-loving optimist who as a promise to his wife (Heather Rae) has given up a life of whisky smuggling for farming. After he burns his barn down, however, he has to break that promise and head north of the border on a whisky run to make money to pay for hay for the livestock. For this adventure, he takes along his crazy teenage son Wild Bill (Charlie McDermott) for the first time. Wild Bill seems to have some common sense and tries to reign in his crazy father, but on the other hand he keeps seeing his aunt Cordelia (Genevieve Bujold) everywhere he goes even though she’s at home in Vermont. There’s a consistency in that both real Cordelia and visionary Cordelia are equally crazy and serve the purpose of giving Wild Bill contradictory advice and saying mystical things. Also along for the ride are Quebec Bill’s brother-in-law Herny (Gary Farmer) and a guy named Rat (William Sanderson) neither of whom are crazy, they’re just put upon.

Of course things go horribly wrong on the whisky run and they end up on the bad side of the crazy, babbling Quebecois gangster Carcajou (Lothaire Bluteau) who looks like a voyageur crossed with a pirate and a US Civil War soldier. Carcajou is particularly menacing in a manner similar to Jason Voorhees in that he stalks people through the woods even after he’s been killed several times. At least I think he dies. Sometimes Carcajou like Cordelia and Quebec Bill himself just dissapears lending a literalness to the film’s title.

Now this doesn’t mean I didn’t like movie. Sometimes I like to watch something that makes me say “WTF?” The scenery of the film for one thing is drop dead gorgeous, as is the soundtrack. Furthermore, it’s hard not nod appreciatively at the surreality of scenes such as when Quebec Bill and his gang hijack a steam train disguised as Benedictines. So I do reccomend this for anyone looking for something different. Just don’t expect it to make sense.

Other reviews from The Boston Globe, Variety, and The Hollywood Reporter (just so you don’t think I’m making this stuff up).

One thought on “Movie Review: Disappearances

  1. Good recap and review! The film didn’t follow your typical straightforward narrative… or even the laws of physics, true, but I don’t know about it not making sense. Or at least, a kind of sense.

    I mean, given the remote and wild environments, and the talk, and sense of a “border” all around, and of course, Aunt Cordelia’s ramblings, well, the world of this film is one where magicks are real, living side by side with whiskey monks, smugglers, and anti-French canucklehead prejudice, y’know?

    At least, that’s my take on it. I’m very curious now about the other two films in this “trilogy,” and the original stories that inspired them. Even if the stories aren’t so fun (I think this one totally *is*), I’d bet that the environments and music are beautiful. Will hafta do some investigating into those.

    Support the Brattle! =)

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