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Rosewater (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 15, 2020




Starring Gael García Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Dimitri Leonidas, Haluk Bilginer, Shohreh Aghdashloo, GolshiftehFarahani, Claire Foy, Amir El-Masry, Nasser Faris, Kambiz Hosseini, Numan Acar, Ayman Sharaiha, Zeid Kattan, Ali Elayan, Nidal Ali and Jason Jones.

Screenplay by Jon Stewart.

Directed by Jon Stewart.

Distributed by Open Road Films.  103 minutes.  Rated R.

At first glance, Rosewater would appear to be an odd choice for The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart to make as his first film as a screenwriter and director.

After all, despite the fact that in his day job as a TV writer and host Stewart does have to make light of some very serious issues, it certainly is out of his wheelhouse on film. Previously, Stewart’s background in the movies has pretty much been limited to doing cameo roles as himself, playing small roles in the awful likes of Big Daddy and Death to Smoochy and producing some documentaries.

It seems like a stretch for Stewart to break into film writing and directing a movie based on a true story about an Tehran-born London-based reporter for Newsweek who returns home to cover the controversial 2009 Iranian election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The reporter, Maziar Bahari (played by Gael García Bernal), is falsely arrested as a spy and tortured for months because he had the audacity to do his job and shoot some footage of a popular uprising in the streets of Iranian citizens who insist that the election was rigged.

Yet, Stewart had a very personal connection to this story which made it his passion project – causing him to spend six months on hiatus from his TV show to film the story.

The back story of the filming of Rosewater is almost as interesting as its tragic foreground.

Stewart was aware of Bahari’s plight through his anchor desk at The Daily Show.  In fact, to a certain odd extent, the show was partially responsible. In the days leading up to the arrest, Bahari did an appearance with one of The Daily Show colleagues. Part of the skit had the man accusing Bahari of being a spy. It was just a joke, a silly one at that, but the Iranian officials clung to it as a main excuse for showing up at Bahari’s mother’s (Shohreh Aghdashloo) home and arresting him for espionage.

He was placed in solitary confinement and tortured by a middle-aged Iranian civil servant who Bahari knew only as “Rosewater” (Kim Bodnia), a nickname he gave the man due to his cologne. Through the months, they were able to break Bahari’s spirit – convincing him that he had been forgotten by his mother, his pregnant British wife (Claire Foy) and the world. The only people left in his world were Rosewater and the imaginary ghosts of his father and sister, both of whom had also been arrested for political reasons.

In an attempt to appease his captors, Bahari agreed to come out as a spy on camera, however they reneged on their promise to free him. Soon Bahari realized how pathetic and weak they were and became able to play on their weaknesses – such as Rosewater’s fits of anger and his unnatural interest in stories about sex – to manipulate them.

Little did he know that on the outside, his story was picking up steam. His wife and mother had been going to news agencies and eventually even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was insisting upon his release.

It is a fascinating, depressing, sordid story and Stewart does a good job of capturing all of the pathos. Yet, as should not be surprising with his day job, Stewart is also able to leaven the story with a certain amount of humor.

The acting is terrific, particularly Gael Garcia Bernal, who does an amazing job as the hero, and the always dependably good Shohreh Aghdashloo as his strong-willed mother.

It’s interesting that Jon Stewart has announced that he was leaving The Daily Show on the very same day that Rosewater was released on video. If this is the new direction of Jon Stewart’s career, that would not necessarily be a bad thing.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2015 All rights reserved. Posted: February 10, 2015.

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