In Order of Disappearance: Engaging Foreign Thriller
My favorite film of 2016 isn’t actually from 2016. It’s a foreign film from 2015 that was released in the US in 2016, but I think it still counts. I became aware of it only because it was sent to me as a screener link in an email from the production’s marketing and promotional company. I often ignore these emails since so much of what I get is really hardly worth the time, let alone something I can recommend to others. However, In Order of Disappearance is that rare exception that excites you about the possibility of truly good films being made by talented filmmakers who know how to tell a compelling story that is visually stimulating regardless of the language barrier and lack of special effects.
I know the phrase “foreign film” automatically puts a lot of people off. The average American moviegoer has little patience for anything more foreign than a British comedy, let alone a drama co-produced by Norway, Sweden and Denmark starring Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård (Mama Mia, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and Swiss actor Bruno Ganz (Wings of Desire, Downfall). Even more challenging to the western cinematic pallet is that Skarsgard plays a professional snow plower in a remote village where he is named citizen of the year. This quality hardly evokes excited anticipation in the heart of U.S. audiences. However, even though the character is firmly established as a regular guy, and well-respected man among his neighbor, normality pretty much ends there.
Simply put, In Order of Disappearance is so exceptional in such a variety of ways that it’s challenging to express just how unique it truly is. It certainly is exceptional in its story, flowing naturally from the initial set up of a rather mundane character and his rural life in a nameless Nordic town then seamlessly transitioning to a complicated tale reflecting multiple facets of paternal devotion and obligation in the modern world. Although this is a revenge film, the central focus is on the relationships of fathers and sons, drug lords and thugs, and a brief yet surprising glimpse into love among henchmen (you really won’t see that coming). Skarsgard is achingly compelling as the bereaved father who seeks biblical justice for the wrongful death of his son by the hands of a drug gang. And Ganz is very affective as the aging head of a second criminal gang who also loses his son during a series of unfortunate misunderstandings that escalate until a third son becomes a barging chip, forcing all the fathers to really reconsider their obligations and duties as guardians.
Along the way there’s a lot of deaths, as Skarsgard makes his way up the chain of command to reach the man who is ultimately responsible for the loss of his son. Although the acts are violent in nature, they are gorgeous moments of artistry in a style of cinematography that envelops the screen like an epic masterpiece. Never has the disposal of human remains been so beautifully depicted on the silver screen. Cinematographer Philip Ogaard has been recognized for his talents in Norway, but I think it’s merely a matter of time before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honors him with an Oscar for his lush images of life, tranquil or violent. And of course, director Hans Peter Noland is truly a remarkable helmsman, guiding all of the forces into a lyrical whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
I’m particularly partial to the title. I think the turn of phrase is brilliant. If it sounds familiar, you may be thinking of the recognizable performance credit In Order of Appearance, which refers to names of actors in a play or film in the order in which they appear in the story. Dutch screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson (A Somewhat Gentle Man, Prague) has taken the expected and created a clever twist, not just with the title of this tale, but also with the entire, engaging and thoroughly entertaining story about an average man seeking revenge in a world of gangsters and drug lords far beyond the common man’s safe little world. Overall, In Order of Disappearance is a completely satisfying viewing experience. It’s exceptionally unique in its story presentation, and now I’m excited to seek out other cinematic treasures from Nordic countries. And you should be too.