An Iranian couple get caught in a web of lies in Ali Asgari’s precisely crafted debut


Source: Doha Film Institute

Dir: Ali Asgari. Iran-Qatar. 2017. 88mins.

A young couple’s relationship is tested through a long winter’s night of moral dilemmas and impossible choices in Disappearance (Napadid Shodan). The first feature from experienced shorts director Ali Asgari is a precisely crafted, modestly proportioned drama that draws out the wider political resonance from a tale of individual heartache. Festival interest and some commercial potential should result from its high profile exposure at Venice and Toronto.

Ali Asgari maintains a tight hold on the material as the night unfolds

Disappearance initially has the feel of film noir as a taxi glides through the shadowy streets of Tehran. A woman heads to the emergency department of a hospital; we only see the back of her head and the way her breath catches in the cold night air. Teenage architecture student Sara (Sadaf Asgari, the director’s niece) claims to have been raped. Her blood pressure is low, she is bleeding and may require an operation. Yet, there is something about the situation that doesn’t ring true. Sara is unusually calm and composed. Her brother Hamed (Amir Reza Ranjbaran) swiftly arrives at the hospital almost as if he has been nearby, expecting a call.

There is clearly something else going on, and Asgari quickly cuts through the uncertainty to explore the consequences for a young, unmarried couple in Iran who have become sexually active. As we follow the couple through a succession of hospital departments, it becomes clear that the need for urgent medical attention is secondary to the swift judgements of staff and the unbending rules of the society that surrounds them. It is no coincidence that the hospitals all have the same bland look or that the characters are forever walking along anonymous corridors, travelling in circles, trapped in a labyrinth of bureaucracy and regulations.

Sara has lied to her family, and the dishonesty spreads like a virus. Her parents cannot know that she has lost her virginity, and yet it seems unlikely that she can receive proper treatment without the consent of her parents. Equally, the web of falsehoods and fabrications starts to take its toll on the trust between the couple. Sara grows increasingly anxious about Hamed’s reliability; every absence feels like a chance to abandon her, even if he has only left to use the toilet.

Operating on a simple human level and building a story through the accumulation of small details and telling incidents, Disappearance has an affinity with new Romanian cinema titles like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and Two Days. The story of everyday lives at the mercy of moral codes that feel outdated to a younger generation also brings to mind Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake. Asgari maintains a tight hold on the material as the night unfolds; there is little sense of hysteria or panic, just a steady drip of the shaming consequences that follow from the breaking of one taboo.

Newcomer Sadaf Asgari may not be the most expressive of performers but her inexperience does help to convey a sense of someone in shock, frozen in the glare of a situation spiralling beyond control or easy resolution.

Production company: Three Gardens Film

International sales: New Europe Film Sales

Producers: Ali Sadraie, Pouria Heidary Oureh

Screenplay: Franoosh Samadi, Ali Asgari

Cinematography: Ashkan Ashkani

Editor: Ehsan Vaseghi

Production design: Saeid Asadi

Music: Yishai Adar

Main Cast: Sadaf Asgari, Amir Reza Ranjbaran, Nafiseh Zarei