The writing and directorial debut of Jon Stewart’s “Rosewater” tells the story of journalist Maziar Bahari and his survival in the face of persecution, but leaves the audience crying out for more.
If you find yourself to be a fan of political satire, you can flip to the “Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” found on Comedy Central every Monday through Thursday. With brash comedy based around current events and diplomatic blah blah blah, the hour-long segment connects with viewers who typically lean more toward the liberal side.
Generally in favor of the lighter side of news, Stewart truly breaks his self-made mold with his inaugural film, “Rosewater,” which is based on the true story and hardship of a journalist who is falsely imprisoned and interrogated as a spy.
Beginning in the spring of 2010, “Rosewater” tells of journalist Mazair Bahari and picks up with his return to Iran, his home country. All Iranian natives, we learn throughout the film that Bahari’s family has witnessed and personally experienced the tyrannical oppression of several leaders Iran has seen between the mid-1950s and 2010, where the story picks up.
When the film opens, Bahari is just being taken into custody by whom we can only assume are government agents. The agents wake Bahari and begin questioning him, eventually taking him somewhat peacefully from his home.
The account then backtracks and shows Bahari living with his pregnant wife in London before his journey back to Iran.
It is loosely explained that Bahari, a journalist for Newsweek, a weekly American news outlet, will return to the nation for roughly a week to cover the pending election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his opponent Mir-Hossein Mousavi.
Bahari spends the days leading up to the election interviewing supporters for both sides. Throughout this time, he is presented with several opportunities to film examples of extreme political views, oppression and propaganda.
He vehemently denies the chance to do so, a win for the profession of journalism which is often chalked up as a most immoral job field.
Bahari knows and admits that if he chose to use the opportunities to further the divide between supporters and revolutionists, it would only result in further oppression or bloodshed and it is clear he knows he has nothing to gain in doing so.
When election day arrives, the audience follows Bahari as he witnesses Iranians eager to take part in the democratic process.
However, it is after the loss of Mousavi that the mood moves from uplifted to outraged. The streets are filled with a public feeling disenfranchised and subjugated by what they were calling a fraudulent re-election of their president who was overwhelmingly not supported by the majority of the people in the time leading up to the election.
Going back about a week, Bahari takes pause in his quest to cover the election to film a brief satirical interview for the “Daily Show” where he is dubbed a spy and is interviewed by another “spy” played by Jason Jones, a personality on the show.
Based on his involvement in these events and the government’s need to blame the Western coverage of the allegedly botched election, we catch back up with the start of the film where Bahari is arrested and taken into custody by government officials.
For the next 118 days, Bahari is held captive and interrogated in what is reported to be brutal and torturous conditions.
While we certainly see some material that leaves one feeling Bahari’s mental state would have been fragmented, the expectations of suffering was definitely higher than what we see.
Don’t get me wrong, I was not eager to see someone be pushed to the edge of a mental and physical break or to see inhuman and illegal torture, but I was also not prepared for what was at times an anticlimactic display of dialogue.
I will not be surprised to hear some critics of the film say the story was already known and was well-covered during Bahari’s imprisonment, meaning that a short film with little meat was not needed.
From the perspective of this young American reporter, that opinion is not shared. Mr. Bahari’s story, while well-publicized and deserving of the coverage it received at the time, is not one that is well-known amongst the younger generation certainly here and possibly abroad.
It is a tale that needs to be reiterated in as many arenas as possible so that generation after generation understand the weight of bearing witness to crimes against basic human rights across the world.
While this is my unwavering stance, it still cannot go unsaid that this film, while artful and made with strong cinematography, is timid and far too earnest for its subject matter and has certainly left much to be desired.
It is presumably the length of the film that equates to the simplicity of the storytelling.
With a modest run time of one hour and 45 minutes, Stewart is still able to capture some heartwarming and honest moments detailing the psychological impact that captivity has on a person.
These moments are found in Bahari’s solitude and are often brought with him into the interrogation room where he showcases the enduring human spirit in the face of tremendous oppression.
Skillfully acting with what he is given, Gael Garcia Bernal, who plays Bahari, gives the audience a look into the life and trials of a man overcoming the place he has been given in the world.
While everyday cinema lovers and the general bored citizen need not spend an afternoon or evening viewing the film, this is one that is highly recommended for journalism students or reporters in need of a refresher course in journalism ethics and the real reason to do what we do.
Certainly considered a docu-drama more than anything, the scenes showing Bahari’s ability to make moral decisions as a man of the media is encouraging and inarguably worth an hour and 45 minutes for like-minded individuals, though not worth more than the price of a midday matinee ticket.
I certainly applaud Stewart for stepping outside of his box and giving Americans something to really think about as opposed to what I can only describe as his typical raunchy and borderline offensive political satire, though I encourage him to continue pushing his boundaries and exploring the realm of filmmaking before going back to the drawing board for his next project.
I am intrigued to see what he comes up with next and commend his ability to write, I simply want to get more from him, as will any moviegoer who sees this film.
Overall: Not THAT bad, not THAT good.