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article imageReview: ‘Rosewater’ is a well of inspiration and inexperience Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Nov 14, 2014 in Entertainment
‘The Daily Show’ host Jon Stewart’s feature directorial debut, ‘Rosewater,’ is an imperfect but stirring story of a journalist’s unjust detention in Iran.
When a person is incarcerated for voicing their political beliefs, their release is not just a matter of freedom but an opportunity to expose the regime and continue the fight. As reporters and storytellers, journalists feel particularly compelled to share their prison experiences and provide first-hand accounts of the injustices they’ve witnessed and suffered. Rosewater is the result of two commentators combining their efforts to tell one such story.
Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) is an Iranian-Canadian journalist covering the 2009 elections in Iran for Newsweek magazine. After capturing and broadcasting the murder of a protestor, he is arrested in his family’s home and charged with espionage. He would spend the next four months being physically and emotionally tortured as they attempt to obtain a confession of his treason. Held in solitary confinement, he gains strength from imaginary conversations with his father who faced similar circumstances decades earlier. The “specialist” (Haluk Bilginer) who questions him tries a number of tactics, but is regularly frustrated by Bahari’s unacceptable truths or ironic fabrications. Thanks to a global outcry and a false promise to spy on the West, Bahari was released. His disregard for their agreement has virtually banned him from ever returning to the country, though he continues to fight on behalf of other wrongly imprisoned journalists.
This is a compelling story that is reflective of any number of political uprisings recently seen in the news. Governments struggle with the ease with which not only reporters, but citizens, can disseminate information they’d prefer did not extend past their borders. The speed with which illegal acts and crimes against humanity can become a topic of international condemnation is something for which many leaders were unprepared. As the specialist accuses Bahari of his efforts to spread anti-Iran propaganda via Newsweek, he can only laugh pointing out that weekly magazines are a dying medium and there are far better digital ways to spread such material.
The film frequently points out the absurdity of his captors' beliefs and system. Bahari feeds his interrogator ludicrous examples of Western indulgence, such as a surplus of extravagant massage parlours, which they wholeheartedly believe. As evidence, they use Bahari’s interview with Jason Jones for The Daily Show during which Jones implies he is a spy. This is doubly amusing since most people are aware of the program’s satiric take on issues and because of its link to writer, director and show host, Jon Stewart.
Stewart’s directorial debut mimics the structure of his television show, addressing serious topics with a sense of humour. This can be effective, but at times seems to undermine the seriousness of the situation. There are also montages of news reports and archival footage that fly across the screen, which is meant to create more of an emotional response than provide useful information. It’s likely Stewart’s inexperience that leads him to be a little heavy-handed when making certain points or connections, but the power of the story and Bernal’s performance outshine most of the picture’s flaws.
Director: Jon Stewart
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Haluk Bilginer and Dimitri Leonidas
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