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Rosewater - Movie Review

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Rosewater - Movie Review

4 stars

Jon Stewart, the darling of late night political satire, dips his toes into the world of filmmaking with his brilliant screenwriting and directorial debut of Rosewater, a story he adapts from journalist Maziar Bahari’s memoir titled Then They Came for Me.

Many may recall the Iranian-Canadian Newsweek journalist’s plight when he was detained in Iran back in 2009 on suspicions of being a U.S. spy and was held prisoner for 118 days while covering that country’s troubled elections. Sadly, other than the filmed shooting and death of protestor Neda Agha-Soltan during the uprising, this may be about all that most Americans remember from those troubled times.

Most will be surprised to learn that Rosewater is a serious film about a very serious topic. After all, Stewart has been entertaining audiences with his acerbic brand of satirical humor for years as the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. But what’s even more surprising is the way in which the novice filmmakers's story maintains the visceral impact of a thrilling political drama while never losing the “schnicks and giggles” fingerprint of a humorist in love with poking fun at the absurdity of a theocratic establishment. Rosewater is indeed funny, but one mustn’t necessarily be a fan of Stewart’s “style” to get it. Bureaucratic absurdity is always universally funny.

Bahari, played by Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama, Tambien) returns to his native Iran from his new home in London where he lives with his wife who is pregnant with their first son. While in country, Bahari stays with is mother (Shoreh Aghdashloo) but travels the streets by day with video camera in hand to interview members of Iran’s underground network of young citizens whose views tend to lean more Western. Trouble is erupting as the presidential elections near that pit political reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi against controversial incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A friend drives Bahari to “Dish University” to see, first-hand, a clandestine rooftop array of satellite dishes the students use to gather information which is strictly prohibited by their government. Via these banned broadcasts, they learn that the election is expected to be a close one.

But when it is announced that Ahmadinejad wins the election by a landslide, even before the votes have been tallied, the countryside erupts into all hell as a bloody crackdown is waged by government goons.

Bolstered by their discovery of Bahari in a humorous parody interview by The Daily Show correspondent  Jason Jones – whose mock interviews have become a signature segment to Stewart’s program – members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard arrest Bahari at his mother’s house and charge him as a spy for the United States. Never mind that he is not American nor does he even live in the U.S. The evidence: pornographic materials in the form of Leonard Cohen albums and DVDs of The Sopranos. You just can’t make this stuff up, folks.

Much of the remainder of the film covers Bahari’s time spent in prison where, when not being beaten or brutally interrogated by the assigned specialist he calls Rosewater (Kim Bodnia) – after the scent of his cologne, he endures haunting visits by the ghosts of his father and sister who were both arrested and spent time in the same infamous Iranian jail where he is currently housed.

Ironically, many of the film’s most humorous moments come from Bahari’s interactions with Rosewater who inquires about the journalist’s frequent trips to the U.S. The relationship between captor and captive changes as Bahari feeds his curious interrogator ridiculous stories of his addiction to western massage parlors and the semi-salacious happenings common to such establishments. Stewart handles this change of tone like a veteran director, never allowing the snide humor to undermine the gravity of Bahari’s situation.

One must wonder about the intent and impetus for Stewart choosing this topic as his virgin foray into filmmaking. Is he attempting atonement for his perceived part in Bahari’s capture? An argument can be made that if The Daily Show had not filmed that interview in the Tehran cafe, Iran’s government wouldn’t have had the evidence it so proudly used as motivation for Bahari’s incarceration. But then we begin to better understand Stewart’s point. It’s not about the evidence, nor does the truth matter. It’s about the insanity and foolishness when the clash of cultural ideals are exposed by repressive theocratic regimes around the world.

Rosewater - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: R for language including some crude references, and violent content.
103 mins
: Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart
Gael García Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Dimitri Leonidas
: Biography | Drama
Memorable Movie Quote: "What's this? Porno?"
Open Road Films
Official Site:
Release Date:
November 14, 2014
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available.

Rosewater is based on The New York Times best-selling memoir "Then They Came for Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival," written by Maziar Bahari. The film marks the directorial debut of "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart, and stars Gael García Bernal.

Rosewater follows the Tehran-born Bahari, a broadcast journalist with Canadian citizenship. In June 2009, Bahari returned to Iran to interview Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who was the prime challenger to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As Mousavi's supporters rose up to protest Ahmadinejad's victory declaration hours before the polls closed, Bahari endured personal risk by sending footage of the street riots to the BBC. Bahari was arrested by police, led by a man identifying himself only as "Rosewater," who tortured and interrogated him over the next 118 days.

With Bahari's wife leading an international campaign to have her husband freed, and Western media outlets keeping the story alive, Iranian authorities released Bahari on $300,000 bail and the promise he would act as a spy for the government.

No details available.

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