Disappearance (2017)

Review #1,527

Director:  Ali Asgari 
Cast:  Sadaf Asgari, Amirreza Ranjbaran
Plot:  On a cold night in Tehran, two young lovers go from hospital to hospital in search of help as they face the consequences of their youthful naivety.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Nom. for Venice Horizons Award (Venice).  Nom. for Discovery Award (Toronto)
Runtime:  89 mins
Rating:  PG13 for some mature content
International Sales:  New Europe Film Sales

Iranian director Ali Asgari’s understated debut feature, Disappearance, is a calm and composed film, but one devoid of any narrative urgency, despite its very plotting suggesting some kind of ‘race-against-time’ type picture.  The film, a thematic expansion of the director’s early 2013 short, More Than Two Hours, centers on a man and a woman who try to find a hospital through the night so that the latter could get treatment.  

The problem, however, is that while they share an intimate relationship, in the eyes of the law, they are as good as strangers with no official document proving that they are related to each other in some way.  One hospital after another reject them, or should I say that it is them who reject the hospitals, out of fear that their illicit romance be known to the woman’s family.

Set in the space of the few hours before daylight, Disappearance charts the journey of Sara (Sadaf Asgari) and Hamed (Amir Reza Ranjbaran) as they deliberate their circumstance with a mix of resignation and frustration.  In their lonely drive to seek help, they desperately hook up concerned friends who try to assist them.  

Much have been made about how the film is a reflection of an oppressed society, in particular towards women, where bureaucratic obstacles put them down at every turn.  But truth be told, it is not really a film about oppression, even if it appears to be so on the surface.  Systemic protocols (e.g. hospitals requiring an official next-of-kin to approve of any medical treatment or operation) are there to protect rather than to obstruct in any society.

Instead, Disappearance wants you, the viewer, to empathise with the couple’s predicament, independent of the country’s socio-political conditions, though those very conditions do influence how the characters approach their situation.  Moreover, from the audience point-of-view, the context of viewership also influences how we make sense of the film i.e. we would approach an Iranian film somewhat differently from one that is made in, for example, France.  

Maybe that’s why Disappearance feels underwhelming as a work of Iranian cinema—one would expect something powerful and filled with nuances.  While Asgari’s film could be better appreciated as one about the immaturity of youth, it ultimately feels like a cookie-cutter product of a national cinema striving for something more political.  

Verdict:  Moments of cinematic power are few and far between in this understated if also underwhelming debut feature.




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