Iranian siblings come up against the insanity of their nation's backwards healthcare rules in this bold drama that begins well but plays its hand too early
Ali Asgari’s Disappearance opens with a young woman walking towards a hospital in Tehran at midnight. Sara (Sadaf Asgari), a teenage student, tells the nurse that she’s been raped and is bleeding. Her blood pressure is low and she’s told she’ll need surgery for her cut. Sara is asked to call her family and her brother Hamid (Amir Reza Ranjbaran) promptly arrives. However, it soon becomes apparent that there’s something else going on and Sara and Hamid flee the hospital before the surgery can be performed.
Disappearance takes place over the course of a night as the siblings drive around the city searching for someone willing to perform Sara’s surgery without asking questions. But this is Iran: legally, for a woman to receive gynaecologic surgery she needs her father or husband’s approval. Fearing her patriarch’s wrath, Sara is forced to seek alternative, illegal, and unsafe options.
Asgari has primarily been a maker of short films, and it shows in Disappearance. Despite its strong opening, as the film continues, the narrative quickly loses its early tension. Disappearance falters because it shows its hand of cards too early and it’s only towards the end that Asgari regains the film’s opening suspense.
Although Disappearance’s meandering and baggy middle portion ultimately deflates the film, it does work in depicting Sara and Hamid’s long journey across Tehran. The characters visit three hospitals in their search for medical treatment and are turned away again and again. Despite its narrative problems, Disappearance is a bold statement on the state of healthcare in Iran and the lack of agency women have over their bodies. Unable to receive surgery, Sara becomes increasingly pale and weak until eventually she disappears entirely.
Disappearance screened at Glasgow Film Festival