Rosewater (2014) Film Review from the 58th Annual BFI London Film Festival, a movie directed by Jon Stewart, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jason Jones, Haluk Bilginer, Dimitri Leonidas, Andrew Gower, Arian Moayed, Numan Acar, and Nasser Faris.
For his directorial debut Jon Stewart chose the film adaptation of Maziar Bahari’s ‘Then they came for me’, which itself is a memoir of Bahari’s time as a prisoner following the 2009 Iranian presidential elections. Bahari, a journalist by trade, had been a guest on Stewart’s highly popular ‘Daily Show’ before his imprisonment in Iran. Bahari’s involvement with the Daily Show was used as evidence by Iranian authorities to hold him. This may have been what led Stewart to push Bahari’s story into the forefront of the public eye.
The film, like the novel, gives a brief glimpse of Bahari’s family history, as well as the incidents that lead to his imprisonment, including the various ways he was interrogated while incarcerated. It was a bold choice for Stewart to take on and it shows.
The film starts off with Bahari, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, being questioned at his mother’s home over various items in his possession. The authorities use every inch of their surroundings to find something, anything that can help them take Bahari. The film is, essentially, a drama; there isn’t room for humour, which is why the various attempts made to lighten the mood, end up giving each scene a disjointed feel.
The film then falls back 11 days and shows Bahari with his pregnant fiancé. This is where we first learn about Bahari’s family and what happened to his father and sister. Bahari flies to Tehran on the eve of the election and is relieved to find a young taxi driver willing to show him around town. Bahari is taken to Dish University, a place where the young liberal Iranians spend time, where a number of satellite dishes are hidden on roofs, giving them access to international media. Bahari’s interaction with these young professionals and students highlights the similarities between them and their western equivalents. This younger generation is far less religious and conservative than the governing older generation. The scene perfectly encapsulates the struggle of the young generation while also providing an honest look at how they truly are.
The man charged with interrogating Bahari, who he nicknames Rosewater, is a large man who uses every tactical trick in the book to break his resistance. He is threatened with beatings, various tortures, indefinite imprisonment and a list of other heinous acts. Rosewater, played by Kim Bodnia, is a wild and unpredictable character. He wants to be in control, that much is certain, but if often feels like he is willing to do whatever he has to, to accomplish that. Despite his occasional bumbling around and his unproductivity while questioning Bahari, Rosewater is a terrifying figure to be in the presence of. He is perhaps best described as a playground bully on a sugar high.
Bahari’s 118 days of imprisonment are filled with daily interrogations, where he is accused of being a member of four covert organizations, namely the CIA, Mossad, Newsweek, and MI6. He is accused of being a spy for the west and constantly asked to name other members. Rosewater’s fascination with illicit sex makes for an interesting conversation between the pair. Besides that, there weren’t many moments that would surprise or intrigue viewers.
There isn’t much drama left in a story once you know how it ends. Most of the enjoyment comes from seeing all the action unfold. In the case of Rosewater, it often appeared uncertain what kind of condition Bahari would be returned in. That is, perhaps, the best thing about the film. It gives suspense to an already worked out ending.
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