Review: Rosewater

I confess that I don’t watch the news much. I don’t watch the Daily Show often, in fact I’m usually in bed by 11:00 pm. Before word reached my ears that Jon Stewart was making his directing a movie, I will admit that I was intrigued that he was writing and directing a film about a journalist who was accused of espionage on Iranian soil and detained for months in 2009.

Gael Garcia Bernal (right) and Kim Bodnia (left) star in Rosewater

Again, I don’t watch the news as much as the next person and I had no idea who this Maziar Bahari was; in 2009 I was about to begin my second year of college and I had other things on my mind during the time of Bahari’s detainment, but the film Rosewater is based on Bahari’s experience covering the Iranian election which led to his arrest and incarceration at the hands of Iranian interrogators.

As someone with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Arts, this movie taught me a most important lesson: don’t make any travel plans to Iran for business or pleasure in the foreseeable future. Jon Stewart has certainly crafted a fascinating film on his first attempt at writing and directing for the screen; audiences can definitely tell that he has inserted his own experience as a faux news anchor in order to reconstruct the events that Bahari has experienced.

Gael García Bernal as Bahari is decent as the main character. He doesn’t exactly have to give a good performance in this movie in order for Rosewater to be effective.

What makes Rosewater effective is the message that it is trying to send by bringing Maziar Bahari’s story to a motion picture format. Rosewater attempts to shed light on Iran’s attitudes towards individuals and organizations they deem as threatening to their way of life while Stewart subtly pokes fun of these Iranian officials while they are trying to get Bahari to confess that he is a spy trying to subvert the Iranian people from following the laws of Ahmadinejad, but that isn’t the case; Bahari was filming the riots that took place after the election, he took part in a mock interview with one of the Daily Show’s reporters and he has no allegiance to another government entity, but his interrogators at Evin Prison refuse to believe that he is telling the truth and they do not let him go.

Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski and editor Jay Rabinowitz demonstrate fine technique in terms of visually telling the story and the supporting cast including Kim Bodnia, Haluk Bilinger, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Golshifteh Farahani, Claire Foy and Nassir Faris are quite respectable in their performances as well.

Jon Stewart tries his hand at directing in Rosewater

What works against this movie though is that it seems a bit biased. Granted this is based off Bahari’s novel and if there is bias towards the Iranian government, it is probably warranted from Bahari but considering that the writer and director of the film is Jon Stewart, it just doesn’t seem as if it is objective; the supporters of  Ahmadinejad are depicted as robotic, easily quick-tempered and defensive, prone to paranoia and considering that Stewart is writing and directing this film it is as if he is simply poking fun at Bahari’s captors while promoting his own sense of patriotism, preying on the sympathies of the American public.

Rosewater is a remarkably straightforward film. The film begins with the question what has he done? The “he” being Bahari as the officials from the Iranian government come to collect him at his mother’s home after he shot the footage of the riots and sent them to the BBC, then his incarceration where he kept himself going with memories of his late father and sister and how they endured in prison for angering the government themselves, how his mother and pregnant wife led the charge to get him out, relying on support from various governments including the American government and how Bahari made his jailers look like villains, then when he finally grasped that they had nothing to go on while he was being questioned, they are seen as stupid villains.

Rosewater is a film that tries to incite sympathy for the multitudes of journalists still incarcerated by the Iranian government and it tries to promote how Bahari, after his release from Evin Prison, has made it his life’s mission to help the still wrongfully imprisoned in Iran, however he can.

I cannot imagine a movie like this being released in Iran today, but I can say that Rosewater is a surprisingly decent film from Jon Stewart. It isn’t a certified cinematic home-run, it is his first directorial feature, but it is certifiably likeable and worth seeing.

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