Movie Review: Rosewater

SYNOPSIS: The feature film ROSEWATER is based on the New York Times best-selling memoir “Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival,” written by the BBC journalist Maziar Bahari. A true story, the film marks the screenwriting and directorial debut of The Daily Show host and anchor Jon Stewart, and stars Gael Garcia Bernal, leading an international cast. ROSEWATER is produced by Scott Rudin, Stewart, and Gigi Pritzker, with Lila Yacoub and Eli Bush serving as executive producers.
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Haluk Bilginer, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Golshifteh Farahani
Houston Release Date: November 14th
Run Time: 103 minutes

The movie Rosewater is based on Maziar Bahari’s 2011 memoir, Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity and Survival. The memoir, like the movie, centers on the life of Bahari as an Iranian-Canadian Newsweek correspondent. The film depicts Bahari’s activities in covering the murky 2009 Iran presidential election, his arrest by the Iranian government and his 118 day incarceration in an Iranian jail.

Rosewater is a powerful and gripping roller-coaster of human emotion. For a film about torture, interrogation and imprisonment, I was happily surprised to find that the movie was not the deep, dark depressor that I thought it was going to be. It does have its dark moments. His mother is elderly. His wife is pregnant. He’s imprisoned in a land far from home and facing death at the whim of his keepers. That said, it is the lighter moments of the film which serve to capture the best of the human spirit and inspire the audience.

The lighter moments were awe-inspiring because that is where we can see the Bahari’s determination to survive his ordeal. We see the power of the human spirit to overcome. We see humor. We see Bahari find a reason to dance. And, even though we know that he survives to tell the story, we can’t help to but to cheer him on.

In the film, Bahari is played convincingly well by Gael Garcia-Bernal. Bernal portrays a flawed and almost unwilling hero in Bahari. He wants to do the “right thing,” but he doesn’t want to create problems for himself or his sources in Iran. He wants to tell the story that needs to be told, but he turns the camera off when the subject matter gets too controversial. He wants the riots to be seen, but he is afraid to come out from behind the wall. Bahari could be anyone of us, and if it were happening to us, what would we choose? And could we survive it? I appreciated that Bahari was not elevated to god status in the film. After all, he undertakes the journey leading-up to his imprisonment only because he is a expecting a baby with his wife and they could both use the extra pay.

I highly recommend this film. Do not let all the talk of “political drama” dissuade you from going to see it. There are some politics involved, but mostly it’s a story about a man who found himself in a terrible predicament, and found the strength within himself, and for the love of his family, to survive.

Rosewater is the story of an Iranian-Canadian journalist (Maziar Bahari), arrested on the suspicion that he is a spy. His punishment equals torture and imprisonment. The film could’ve easily become a Disney-esque, pull at your heartstrings with easy emotional ploys movie. Instead Stewart allows the audience to understand the story with a natural spilling of feeling that doesn’t pander. It’s a beautiful process to experience.

“Just because you can’t see the cockroaches doesn’t mean they’re not there.”

Bahari was convicted as a spy after Iranian officials saw him being interviewed for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The segment was farcical and consists of comedian Jason Jones interviewing Bahari about the recent Iranian presidential election. It would have been easy for Stewart as director to lean heavily on his role in the situation and create a vanity project. Instead, he chose to include only a brief clip and mention of the episode and stay committed to the story of the personal journey of Bahari, making this an anti-vanity project.

There are strong performances throughout. Gael Garcia Bernal plays Mazair Bahari with intelligence and delicacy. Watching his grace under such unfair punishment will re-sensitize even the most jaded of viewers. The beautiful Shohreh Aghdashloo plays Maziar’s mother who is beaten down but not completely defeated by the system which has already taken her husband and daughter’s lives.

The photography is steady and artful. The score by Howard Shore is memorable without being overpowering and there is a moment when Bernal remembers a Leonard Cohen song that will ignite a spark for any impassioned music fans who have been saved by music. There is an art-house feel to the picture. It isn’t likely to tear through to the top of the charts, but, if you’re interested in seeing an intelligent, non-manipulative, true tale of courage under duress and the power of foreign governments- give this a try.

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