This film has all the ingredients to become a hardcore, sensational thriller about a man who disappeared. The story is structured as an investigation that reveals more and more details about the American cameraman who vanished. Was he murdered? Allen’s friend, a German film director, decides to find out what happened to him. As spectators we want the facts, yet we more or less know from the very beginning that Allen Ross has died – because the filmmaker knows this and communicates that feeling to us in the tone of the film that is first of all low key, a bit monotonous and sad.
It sounds boring, but it is not. Not at all. Paradoxically the story keeps our attention from the beginning till the very end. I have asked myself why, after a couple of screenings. Because it is a fantastic story, yes, but maybe also because you feel that this is an honest approach in a well crafted film where Bauer refrains from any tabloid banalities; there is no appeal to sentimentalism. As he says himself in the film when he characterizes his own part in the film, “I hide behind the camera.” When Bauer is in the picture himself you see almost no signs of emotion on his face, he keeps it inside. This introversion gives the film an intensity that invites reflection on the irrational absurdity of human life.
Why did Allen Ross decide to leave his friends and an apparently good life in Chicago to move to Oklahoma with a woman whom he married after knowing her for three days? Love makes you insane, as the saying goes, but then why was he attracted to the Samaritan Foundation cult in Oklahoma that was said to be linked to the Waco sect? What went wrong? Did he think that he was a camera, as Linda, his wife, says in a phone conversation with Bauer? Or did he want to make a film about a sect whose spiritual ideas fascinated him?
Christian Bauer never gives us any answer to these questions but he takes us on a journey that gives us a warm portrait of his good friend and colleague. The American friends whom Bauer visits also remember Allen as a happy person, committed to his work, living an artist’s life, very closely connected to independent filmmaking in Chicago.
It takes a lot of ethical considerations to make a film like this. A lot of respect for the protagonist, who is presented as a friend and a human being who vanished, not a missing corpse. Bauer manages to keep his balance on the tightrope with this delicate material.