I am such a fan of Jon Stewart (yes, as Bill O’Reilly would say, I am one of the callow youth that watches his show) and I have been following the story of Maziar Bahari since 2009 that I rushed to the overpriced 10:15 a.m. showing of Rosewater this morning. Just me and the elderly. It really is the best time to lose yourself in a movie – a whole row to myself, I had my breakfast from Starbucks on one side and my trusty little notebook on the other. Unfortunately, Jon underdelivered in his directorial debut.
Rosewater is the story of Iranian journalist Mazier Bahari and his arrest and incarceration in Evin Prison in Iran from June to October 2009. From 1998 to 2011, Bahari was Newsweek’s Iran correspondent. By 2009, Bahari was living in London and married with a child on the way. He planned a weeklong trip to Iran to visit his mother and cover the Iranian presidential elections between incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and opposition candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. During his stay in Iran, Bahari meets with young Iranians educated at Dish University, an area of Tehran with hidden satellites so they can view the “real” news from around the globe. He also agrees to an interview with Jason Jones for The Daily Show in which Jones pretends to be a spy. On Election Day, despite numerous reports that Mousavi, the candidate of the young, had taken the lead, before the polls even close, Ahmadinejad is declared the winner. The Iranian Green Movement of Mousavi supporters take to the street and despite the mostly peaceful protests, the Basji, a paramilitary Iranian group, began to use force – pepper spray, batons and even firearms. Bahari is able to film some of the violent footage and transmit it to London. The next morning, he is arrested at his mother’s home and so begins his 118 day imprisonment at Evin Prison. His crime: bearing witness.
The film mainly focuses on Bahari’s 118 day solitary confinement and daily interrogations by his assigned “Specialist.” Accused of being a spy for the CIA, MI6, Mossad and Newsweek, Bahari was tortured during this time, but it was more mental rather than physical and that is what he wants to convey: solitary confinement is just as torturous as being physically beaten, water-boarded, and whatever else springs to mind when torture is mentioned. Yes, Bahari did suffer physical torture at some points during his imprisonment and it was most definitely occurring at the prison, but it was nothing compared to the mental anguish. At one point, the Specialist is instructed by his superior, “you must not just take his blood, you must take his hope.” Interrogated daily by his Specialist while blindfolded, the only clue Bahari had to his identity was the scent of Rosewater. A scent Bahari recalls that was showered on the faithful and only the utmost pious carried. He was a little off on that one, to say the least.
In order to break up the monotony of a person alone with himself in a cement room, scenes of Bahari having conversations with his late father and sister, both of whom were imprisoned in Iran for political dissonance, are interspersed between the interrogations. They are touching and poignant and help convey Bahari’ s inter-monologue, but clearly used as a crutch by Stewart. Gael Garcia Bernal, or as my friend Liz would say, GGB, is fantastic as Bahari, although a bit younger than the actual Bahari at the time. However, I don’t think the little gold man will be knocking on his door this year.
Overall, Rosewater is a solid film that tells a story that should be heard, that is if you don’t already know about it. However, it is not stellar. It’s not overly dramatic, hell, it’s not melodramatic. There is no overbearing score to emphasize the important scenes. I would even suggest that had it been helmed by anyone other than John Stewart it would have slipped into oblivion with a September release.
To be honest dear readers, my favorite part about this film has nothing to do with the film or performances at all. This film will always hold a special place in my heart, my soul even, because without it, the world never would have gotten to know John Oliver! For without John Stewart taking time off from The Daily Show last summer to direct this movie, John Oliver would never have had the chance to guest host for 3 months, and in turn would never have been “discovered” and there never would be Last Week Tonight - A show that I live for each week – it is my goodnight hug every Sunday night to end my weekend. Frozen sex geckos, anyone? #GoGetThoseGeckos
All in all, and unfortunately even, I actually enjoyed watching the The Daily Show’s episode about Rosewater more than I did watching the actual movie. Before heading to the theater, check it out here at http://thedailyshow.cc.com/full-episodes/ddhqcw/november-13–2014—maziar-bahari—gael-garcia-bernal. Then, if you have gotten in all of your required awards season viewing, give Rosewater a viewing at an early matinee; otherwise, you can wait for Redbox.