TIFF 2014 Review: Rosewater
In his directorial debut, Jon Stewart puts you inside the cell of an unjustly jailed Iranian-Canadian journalist, a tense, shocking, and even absurdly comical experience.
Based on the true story of which Stewart and The Daily Show were tangentially influential, Rosewater makes a statement on the illegal incarceration of journalists while intimately following one notable figure.
Nine days after the 2009 Iranian elections, Maziar Bahari was imprisoned and kept in solitary for nearly four months. Stewart, also the film’s writer, follows Bahari (Gael García Bernal) as his leaves his pregnant wife and home in London to cover the proceedings in Iran, which includes capturing violent protest suppression on camera.
It also involves filming a seemingly innocuous segment for the late night comedy program in which correspondent Jason James gets Bahari to jokingly admit that he is a spy.
As portrayed by Bernal, Bahari is a man optimistic, educated but perhaps a bit naïve. Or maybe it’s curiosity that he displays. He is principled yet realistic, and certainly lets himself question his world while being kept in confinement and tended to by a specialist who goes by the name of Rosewater. There exists physical pain and mental whimsy, hallucinations and dance as we spend much of the fine alongside Bahari as he endures this isolation.
Most remarkable is the rise and fall of hope and the infusion of peculiar hilarity. With the utmost seriousness, this specialist plays back The Daily Show segment, obsesses about pornography, and listens intently to anecdotes about western brothels. Bahari is the central figure, and indeed the film is based off his memoir, but his handler is revealed too: he is an overwhelmed employee seeking approval and validation from his boss and family.
This blend of the emotional and dire with the ridiculous and comedic, for which The Daily Show is known, helps to ground Stewart’s film in reality and keep a focused message.
An impressive lead performance is backed by care and consideration, making Rosewater as gripping as it is informative.