The Disappearance (2016)
6th July 2016
Julien and Florence find themselves in every parent's worst nightmare when their daughter Léa, a promising straight A-student, goes missing after attending Lyon's Festival of Music. The last that was heard of her was a 3am answering machine message saying: "Daddy! It's Leah, if you're here please pick up!"
While Florence tries to maintain a semblance of normality for her other two children, Zoe and Thomas, Julien cannot sit around and do nothing - he embarks on a mission to find Léa. Having promised to accompany Léa home, Thomas is being racked by guilt.
Lead investigator Inspector Molina leaves no stone unturned to find Léa. During his thorough investigation Molina builds the portrait of a complex young girl. Step by step everybody's deepest and darkest secrets are revealed.
The Disappearance is also available on Blu-ray, but we're reviewing the DVD here. Not that you'd be able to tell the difference as, from the moment the opening titles roll, the image quality reproduced on the DVD is simply gobsmacking. With a fantastic colour pallet, the range of mood enhancing colours really helps to highlight the pullbacks of the stunning vistas of Lyon. So much so that I had to keep checking the disc to see whether I'd actually been sent the Blu-ray by mistake. It's a long time since I've seen a DVD image of this quality and it even puts some Blu-rays to shame.
As the production team is trying to provide a more "moody and gritty" look to the show (much like the The Killing) the colours aren't as prominent as you'd probably expect, with a slight "washed out" hue which helps add some suspense to the drama. Never the less, the colours are still wonderfully rich and lush with an amazing amount of detail. For example, the reds are deep and rich whilst black levels are rock solid throughout - which, given the number of low lit interiors (are French apartments always that dark?) and night-time scenes, is vitally important.
Soundwise, given the superb quality of the images, it was a great disappointment to discover that The Disappearance is accompanied by a mere 192Kbps 2.0 soundtrack. With setting the mood an important part of any the drama, the lack of a dynamic soundstage is a suprisingly oversight. With its simple stereo track - albeit providing ample vocal reproduction for those who speak French - the ability to provide some better ambience from the musical score and directional effects in the rear channels has definitely been lost here.
The menus across both discs can hardly be described as ground breaking. In fact they look more like something the production company's work experience guy would do on his first day on the job.
Accompanied by the programme's score and matching the cover artwork, the more-or-less static menu (if you discount the moving clouds) presents the viewer with the most basic set of options - episode selection. You can't even disable the subtitles - although, if you can't speak French then you're not going to be looking to complain about that one!
Given that the menu is all rather low rent I wasn't expecting too much from the menu department. It was a good job too as there's nothing to be found here - you could almost create a TV show call, say, The Disappearance. There's not even that simplest of extras - the humble trailer. Still, I guess most material would have been only been available in French and the work experience guy would have been working overtime on the subtitles...
The press talk about The Disappearance being France's answer to Broadchurch, but in turn Broadchurch was influenced by the series which started it all - the Danish classic crime thriller The Killing (which itself is not to be confused with the AMC rather puzzling remake of the same name). However, The Disappearance is inspired by the award winning Spanish series Desaparecida. The question is, what was Desaparecida based on...? Confused yet? I know I certainly am.
With Les Revenants (The Returned) and now The Disappearance enjoying popularity outside of France with, in some instances, French programming becoming even more popular than the current crop of American shows, you have to wonder whether the French have finally up their entertainment game. Have they finally realised that there's a world, and potential for making money, outside of an insular media model and produced programmes that don't just appeal to a limited home market? Or is it simply a case of the current main stream programmes becoming rather stale, predictable and unappealing to the Netflix generation demanding more bang for their buck (or should that be Euro)?
I suspect it's a little bit of both. However, there's no doubting that production values and pacing have definitely improved with such series as Les Revenants (aka The Returned) Engrenages (aka Spiral) and Canal+/Sky Atlantic series The Tunnel all finding large audiences outside of France.
Still, my biggest complaint would be, not speaking French, having to rely on the on-screen subtitles. At least the excellent series The Tunnel was in English. Fortunately, the French have noted this as the English-language British-Franco-Canadian produced period drama Versailles goes to prove. Now if only they'd do a English language version of Maison Close...
As I also enjoyed the similarly themed Broadchurch (well, at least the first series) and was gripped by the multi-lingual and location themed The Tunnel, playing on any parent's worst nightmare: the disappearance - and the death - of a child, The Disappearance should be a "shoe-in". And from the off I was trying to work out who had what to hide and whether the culprit had already appeared on screen. Moody characters (are the French anything but?). Check. A previously unknown boyfriend. Check. Newly arrived Police detective. Check. Possible affair. Check. Yeap, it's got it all - and there's plenty of suspense, shocks and twists and turns to keep you entertained and guessing from week to week.
With so many similarity themed programmes out there, there's a danger of "original stories" like The Disappearance becoming, well, less original. Fortunately, even with having to rely on subtitles, The Disappearance doesn't disappoint - and that's always a good sign for any programme not in your native tongue. If you missed the BBC4 broadcast then it's definitely worth a punt - even with a complete lack of extras to investigate.