Take a Drink: anytime Bahari’s dead father makes an appearance
Take a Drink: when the “specialist” starts getting weirdly sexual
Drink a Shot: anytime someone tells Bahari to put on his mask
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Maziar Bahari (Gael García Bernal) is an Iranian-born journalist for Newsweek who is sent to Tehran to cover the 2009 Iranian presidential election. After the heavily contested election results in widespread civil unrest, he stays behind to cover the demonstrations, and soon observes the inventive ways the locals have found to obtain information beyond that which is approved by their government. Early one morning, the secret police arrive at the door and arrest Bahari, and hold him in isolation. A “Specialist” is assigned to Bahari, subjecting him to psychological and physical torture in order to force a confession.
Rosewater is the first feature film directed and written by The Daily Show host Jon Stewart. Bahari’s incarceration in Iranian prison was partly caused by his appearance on Stewart’s comedy/news television series, in which he was interviewed by correspondent Jason Jones. Stewart’s film is a deeply personal effort as a result of this connection. Stewart keeps the film moving at a steady pace, moving events along briskly without feeling rushed. From the moment Bahari touches down on Iranian soil, the stress feels palpable. Even if you know the ultimate outcome of this story; the dynamic editing and moody cinematography build up tension. Emotions run high in the scenes leading up to the election, with Bahari observing both sides, and ultimately following a group of opposition supporters around. From this point on, the film is an emotional roller-coaster.
Gael García Bernal delivers a solidly emotional lead performance. Bahari had reason to believe that he could potentially be arrested and detained indefinitely, even turning his camera off initially when encountering vocal anti-Ahmadinejad demonstrators. However after spending time with them, he made the crucial decision to cover their activities as part of his reporting. While this is a noble, even laudable decision, in retrospect, it became a stroke which was likely damning. As his character is interrogated, Bernal conveys Bahari as initially confused, then frightened, then accepting of his fate. Over time, however, Bahari begins to realize that his own interrogator might have as much to lose from his situation as he does, and this realization is a fantastic and morbid comedic moment that no other film featuring torture has dared to attempt. And when Bahari figures out that the interrogator has some strange sexual kinks, he begins inventing stories to kill time, and for his own amusement.
Also vital to the film’s success is the performance by Kim Bodnia as “Rosewater”, the unnamed interrogation specialist so christened by Bahari due to the fragrance he wears. Bodnia depicts the interrogator as a low-level bureaucrat whose entire job consists of forcing confessions out of people, by any means necessary. Due to Bahari’s high level of importance for propaganda purposes, he is under tense scrutiny. Over the course of the film, he becomes more and more unsettled by his experience, clearly feeling empathy for Bahari, even while he punishes him for disobedience. This character arc is wonderfully told by director Stewart; who compares and contrasts Bahari and the interrogator, and finds more similarities than differences between them.
For a film by a first time director, Rosewater is surprisingly well-balanced and self-assured. There are a few minor issues which I feel should be addressed. First off, in the film’s third act, several tonal shifts occur, which pit drama and humor together in a fragile blend. A more seasoned director might have found a way to combine these elements more seamlessly, but as it stands the change-over can occasionally be jarring. This doesn’t significantly diminish the film’s impact, but had they been addressed, could have elevated the film to a greater degree of acclaim.
Jon Stewarts’s directoral debut is a boldly optimistic and passionate commentary on the struggle for freedom in the modern world.