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New Release Review - ROSEWATER

True story of journalist Maziar Bahari's imprisonment in Iran on charges of being a spy.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jon Stewart

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Dimitri Leonidas



"When the action moves to the confines of the prison, and the movie becomes for the most part a two-hander between Bahari and Javadi, the film stalls, with Stewart unable to find a cinematic way of conveying the verisimilitude of Bahari's experience."



Daily Show host and liberal idol Jon Stewart makes his feature writing and directing debut with an account of the story of Maziar Bahari (played here by Gael Garcia Bernal, veteran of many a politically charged drama), an Iranian journalist detained in his country on suspicion of being a spy. Bahari made himself an enemy of the state by taking part in a humourous mock interview for Stewart's show in which he pretended to be a spy. Lacking a sense of humour, the Iranian authorities took this quite literally and detained the journalist for 118 days.
The movie begins with Bahari travelling to Iran to cover that country's controversial 2009 elections, which by most accounts was rigged in favour of the incumbent leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Through a taxi driver (a charming turn from Dimitri Leonidas), Bahari befriends a group of revolutionaries in opposition to Ahmadinejad and finds himself shooting footage in the middle of a post-election protest, at which armed forces begin shooting indiscriminately at protesters. The next morning Bahari is rudely awakened by Javadi (Bodnia, the Dane not entirely convincing as a Persian), a government 'specialist' who bundles him off blindfolded to a prison where a campaign of interrogation begins as Javadi aims to extract a confession from the bewildered Bahari.
Stewart impresses in his film's early scenes, employing some interesting visual techniques like projecting images of Bahari's past on the plate-glass windows of the London high street shops the journalist strolls past. When Bahari arrives in Iran we get a real sense of both the tumult and doomed sense of hope among the country's young educated revolutionaries. It's when the action moves to the confines of the prison, and the movie becomes for the most part a two-hander (much like Sidney Lumet's The Offence) between Bahari and Javadi, that the film stalls, with Stewart unable to find a cinematic way of conveying the verisimilitude of Bahari's experience.
We never really get a sense of the hardship endured by Bahari in those 118 days, chiefly because in spite of his situation, he always seems to be one step ahead of his interrogator, portrayed here as a suspiciously gullible fool. The passage of time is clumsily conveyed; 118 days play out like no more than a week, Bernal displaying little in the way of fatigue over the course of his trauma. When Bahari is left alone in his cell, Stewart employs the crass method of having him converse with the imagined ghosts of dead family members. Flashbacks to Bahari's childhood rear their unimaginative head too.
Nobody could argue with Stewart's depth of political knowledge, but on the evidence of his film debut he would be wise to invest some time in studying his new chosen field of visual narrative.



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