Rosewater (15) | Close-Up FIlm Review

Gael Garcia Bernal in Rosewater

Jon Stewart felt he had some redeeming to do. Following a satirical interview conducted by one of The Daily Show’s correspondents, in which the interviewer pretended to be a spy, Maziar Bahari was scooped up by secret police in Iran and held for roughly five months in 2009. Questioned mercilessly about his activities as a Western spy and threatened with death on multiple occasions, Bahari endured more than the average free-spirited journalist should. Whether or not Stewart is directly responsible is something he’ll have to wrestle with himself, but part of his journey to making amends is his first foray into writing and directing a feature film – the story of Maziar Bahari.

A thought-provoking film (under Stewart’s penmanship, was it going to be anything else?) anchored by a fine performance by the dependable Gael Garcia Bernal (the man’s eyes speak of a soulful, restless nature that we can all easily identify with), the majority of Rosewater concerns Bahari’s trip to Iran to cover an election ultimately turning out to be rigged, and his incarceration. Bernal sells the length of the incarceration well, behaving believably as a man in that situation would (or so we who have never experienced such a fate would guess).

The staging of such an experience leads to some well-worn tropes – the visualisation of a long-dead father in this instance; a Clarence or Jiminy Cricket type to keep our hero sane, for the most part, with the remaining part being the one imagining someone who isn’t there. It’s to Stewart’s credit that it works; the relationship between Bernal’s Bahari and his father is tangible and affecting.

MVP goes to Kim Bodnia as Bahari’s interrogator, known only as Javadi, a man who on one end of a phone tells his wife that he’s coming home soon, and once that phone is hung up seemingly questions the things he does to progress through his career and provide for his family. Bodnia sells the insecurities and lack of sureness on Javadi’s face merely with the lines upon it. This is a man who will never understand the world, and the message is plain; he’ll ever be more of a prisoner than Bahari ever was. The reason for that misalignment between man and world is, Stewart suggests, due to the moral tyranny of the Iranian government; the attitude held by said government is one us in the Western world will barely hope to understand, the differences being so profound.

What Stewart does, through Bahari’s character, Bernal’s performance and the story constructed around both, is give us a glimpse into Iran’s political climate and its relationship with the West. It is both invaluable and necessary. If that is the least that this film is, think what more it is thanks to Bernal’s human performance and the Stewart’s ability to put us in Bahari’s shoes.

As far as Stewart’s redemption goes… consider yourself redeemed, sir.

Review by Daniel Woburn

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