(2014) *** R
103 min. Open Road Films. Director: Jon Stewart. Cast: Dimitri Leonidas, Gael Garcia Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Haluk Bilginer.


Might Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, become the next George Clooney, director of liberal-minded political films? By the evidence of Rosewater, Stewart's creditable writing-directing debut, the answer is "yes."

Rosewater derives from a true story that hit close to home for Stewart. When Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari flew to Iran to cover the 2009 election (and the subsequent protests sparked by suspicion of fraud and marked by violence), he also gave some interviews, including a satirical sitdown with Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones. Soon thereafter, Bahari was hauled into prison and shut up in solitary confinement broken up only by a series of interrogations and psychological and physical punishments.

Using as his basis the book Then They Came for Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival by Bahari and Aimee Molloy, Stewart makes comprehensible for a broad audience the contemporary political situation in Iran, its historical context ("Revolutions are just like people. They have to grow"), and the personal history that weighs on Bahari (his father and sister having been persecuted, the former during the reign of the Shah, the latter during that of the Ayatollah Khomeini).

Stewart can be knocked for arguable compromises, like casting Mexican actor Gael García Bernal as Bahari and having the characters—including a loveable driver played by English actor Dmitri Leonidas—speak accented English, but these choices work in the film's favor (especially given the English-speaking director). Bernal gives a typically charismatic star turn, supplying believable dramatic moments and a light touch to the comedic ones, and the dearth of subtitling will make the story as accessible as Stewart clearly longs for it to be.

The Kafkaesque opening sequence, depicting Bahari's arrest, gives way to local-color political journalism and eventually Bahari's 118-day confinement in Evin Prison, where a blindfold accompanies interrogations by a rosewater-scented interrogator (the excellent Danish actor Kim Bodnia). Faced with paranoid accusations of being a "foreign spy," as well as credible threats to his family (mother Shohreh Aghdashloo and pregnant wife Claire Foy), Bahari attempts to hold fast under interrogation as his father once did when imprisoned for being a communist.

Stewart can be a bit overstated in his scripting and his direction, but he also wittily tunes in to the absurdity of Bahari's situation and makes potent use of scarily intense close-ups. Above all, and not surprisingly, media icon Stewart shows his deep belief in the almost holy power of media to bolster political change, and he's not wrong. With the progressive movement's "Dish University" (a cluster of world-reaching satellite dishes), the support of the Twittersphere, and the efforts of journalists like Bahari, the voice of the people hopefully holds its ground in Iran.

Share/bookmark: Digg Facebook Fark Furl Google Bookmarks Newsvine Reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo! My Web Permalink Permalink
Sponsored Links