ROSEWATER (USA/15A/103mins)
Directed by Jon Stewart. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Shoreh Aghdashloo, Kim Bodnia, Dimitri Leonidas, Haluk Bilginer, Golshifteh Farahani
THE PLOT: Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) returns to Tehran to cover the election of 2009. When the people rise up, believing the election was fixed, Bahari finds himself accused of being an American spy and imprisoned on trumped up charges.
THE VERDICT: ROSEWATER is an interesting film, not least for its backstory; after Bahari appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the two became friends, prompting Stewart to make his directorial debut with Rosewater, adapted from Bahari’s book And ‘Then They Came For Me’.
Gael Garcia Bernal is making a habit of choosing roles in films that are not only about important political events, but also have a strong message, and this is true for Rosewater. Bernal gives a strong but understated performance as Bahari, truly coming into his own when Bahari is imprisoned. Although this is Bernal’s film, he is ably supported by Shoreh Aghdashloo, Kim Bodnia, Dimitri Leonidas, Haluk Bilginer and Golshifteh Farahani who bring both compassion and fear to the film.
Jon Stewart’s screenplay, adapted from Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy’s book, starts as a film about the power and necessity of journalism, but evolves into s tale of how one man survives being locked away for crimes that he did not commit. This is when Bernal, and the film come into their own, mixing an oddly sweet humour with the tragedy that Bahari suffered.
As director, Stewart odes make some slightly odd style choices at the start of the film – betraying, perhaps, his background on TV – but these soon subside, and allow the story to come to the fore. Stewart coaxes strong performances from his actors, without ever seeming to pander to them, and although the pacing of the film is a bit of a mess, enough affection is built for the central character that we want to see him succeed.
In all, ROSEWATER is an admirable first feature from veteran TV host Jon Stewart, and one that tells a tragic story in a seemingly honest way. Bernal carries the film ably on his shoulders, but there are times when the film struggles through issues with pacing and some odd stylistic choices. It comes together in the end though, making ROSEWATER a moving tale, well told.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Review by Brogen Hayes
3.0Well told tale
  • filmbuff2011

    Jon Stewart, the presenter of American satire The Daily Show, makes an auspicious directorial debut with Rosewater. It’s based on events in the life of journalist Maziar Bahari, whom Stewart had on his show at one point. Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) is a Canadian-Iranian journalist for Newsweek who arrives in Iran at the critical time of the 2009 elections. He sets out to document the opinions of ordinary people on the streets of Tehran, by interviewing those who rebel against the current repressive regime – even The Sopranos is dubbed as porn and is against the law. When the election results tally unexpectedly towards the current regime, the people of Tehran take to the streets in protest. Suspecting a rigged election, Bahari documents the protests and sends the footage abroad. This triggers his arrest by the authorities, who then imprison him. His captor Javadi (Kim Bodnia) is determined to break him down, only using physical violence where required. But Bahari is made of stronger stuff… Although not well known in this part of the world, Stewart has a keen eye for world events and depicting the realities of life well outside his own home of the brave. Rosewater takes the audience on a journey with Bahari, observing democracy in action in a country where free speech is muzzled. It’s certainly a talking-point film, as Stewart uses actual footage of street shootings and protests to bring his story to life. For most of the film, the story remains engaging. It’s only towards the end, as we get to the interrogation scenes, that the film loses its way. Javadi suspects Bahari of being a spy for the CIA / FBI etc. But given all that’s come before, it’s not credible. Although the interrogation scenes are well acted by Garcia Bernal and Bodnia, some out-of-place humour suggests that Javadi never really means it. The political backdrop in Iran could use a bit more explaining too. But Rosewater is still a worthy drama worth checking out. It will certainly make you glad that you live in a country where free speech is a right, rather than a wish. ***