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'Disappearances' a rollicking Vermont adventure

Article published Apr 9, 2006


ESSEX — Jay Craven got it right when he called his new film a Vermont western. "Disappearances," based on the Howard Frank Mosher novel, is a wild and rollicking adventure through the wilderness of Vermont and Canada that involves gunplay, booze and women — but it's the men who have all the fun.

Kingdom County Productions' "Disappearances" had its official Vermont premiere Friday evening in Essex. Star Kris Kristofferson, among others, director Craven and author Mosher were all on hand to greet the three packed theaters of the Essex Cinemas. The film is scheduled to tour Vermont in July.

There is even a touch of the surreal in "Disappearances." It seems impossible to kill off the one evil character, which is taken from the French Canadian "loup garou" legend, where the evil creature lives on agelessly until confronted by someone who calls him by name and spills his blood.

Kris Kristofferson is a natural as the impossibly optimistic Franco-American farmer and former "rum-runner" Quebec Bill Bonhomme, showing off Kristofferson's fine music as well as acting abilities. Nobody and nothing — not even his down-to-earth 15-year-old son Wild Bill, played with unusual depth by Charlie McDermott — can get Quebec Bill to lose faith in his latest scheme.

It's the Depression and the Prohibition period, so there's no money. When a fire destroys his barn full of hay, Quebec Bill is desperate for cash to feed the cattle. Against the objections of his exasperated wife Evangeline, Heather Rae, he decides to take one last whiskey run for the money and takes his son along to learn the trade.

But Evangeline won't let go of her son until Cordelia, Quebec Bill's aunt and the family sage, gives the word. In a powerfully understated performance by French Canadian superstar Genevieve Bujold, Cordelia keeps showing up at the oddest times — and eventually saves the day.

Quebec Bill is joined by his brother-in-law Henry, played with wit and depth by Gary Farmer, and Henry's V-12 Cadillac, "White Lightning." They are assisted — and as often as not burdened — by the sodden farmhand Rat Kinneson, hilariously played by William Sanderson.

What appears to be a pretty straightforward whiskey run turns out to be a lot more than they've bargained for. The Vermont crew soon finds itself in the middle of a violent feud between two French Canadian bootleg gangs — and up against the nasty Carcajou, a menacing Lothaire Bluteau.

Carcajou seems to be just about everywhere. Even when the Vermonters think they have killed him, he shows up again.

It is also during this adventure that Wild Bill begins to learn the truth about his enigmatic father — and becomes a man.

Before Wild Bill and Quebec Bill reach home, they find themselves in a car chase, a boat chase and hiding in a monastery, to say nothing of hijacking a train.

"Disappearances" is easily Craven's best film to date. The Barnet filmmaker's "Where the Rivers Flow North" was a tad too "meaningful" to be entertaining, while his "Stranger in the Kingdom" was entertaining enough, but lacked resonance.

"Disappearances" is entertaining and emotionally rewarding.

The characters are real enough so that the audience can become invested in them, and the unpredictability of the narrative keeps viewers on the edge of their seats pretty much throughout. And viewers will find themselves reexamining the film long after the final credits roll.

Vermont's wilderness and rural areas always play a big role in Craven films, and this one, filmed by Wolfgang Held, shares that same beauty. For the first time, Craven has successfully combined the qualities of entertainment and depth — and added a touch of mystery.




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