By: Meredith Francis ~Campus News Editor~
You can almost smell the rosewater.
Late-night comedian Jon Stewart recently made his directorial and writing debut in “Rosewater,” the inspiring true story of an Iranian-born Canadian journalist named Maziar Bahari who was imprisoned after covering the controversial 2009 Iranian presidential elections and the violent protests that followed.
Stewart mostly leaves comedy behind when telling Bahari’s story. For 118 days, Bahari, played by Gael García Bernal, was imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin prison on the accusation that he was an American spy.
Bahari endured physical and psychological torture as his mother, pregnant wife and many others campaigned for his release. Bahari’s father and older sister were also imprisoned and tortured in the 1950s and 1980s, respectively, of being accused communists.
The film gets its title from the name of Bahari’s interrogator, who often smelled of rosewater. Bahari also wrote a book called “Rosewater,” which was previously under the title “Then They Came for Me.” The book gives a detailed account of the Iranian politics and Bahari’s family history and story of imprisonment.
Stewart’s investment in the project is partly personal, as Bahari’s appearance on a segment that aired on “The Daily Show” was used as evidence against him in the interrogation room. Bahari also had a hand in the script-writing process and was frequently on-scene for the filming.
García Bernal’s performance is flawless in depicting the emotional ups and downs of Bahari’s imprisonment. He shows true emotional range in brutal interrogation scenes as Rosewater, played by Kim Bodnia, violently beats him and uses cruel psychological torture tactics. For this reason, the film can be upsetting to watch. García Bernal’s most moving moments are seen in Bahari’s long stretches in solitary confinement, where Bahari imagines conversations with his father and sister to give him strength in hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.
Bodnia’s Rosewater is dark, intense and creepy, but his performance also gives the interrogator depth. Rosewater is clearly a sad, overworked and even pathetic government employee who uses his brutality to compensate for a lacking intellect.
Stewart’s directorial choices were brilliantly done. The film often incorporates truly artistic
elements to supplement the story. For example, because social media played such a large role in the Iranian protests, the trending hashtags that fomented the protests are imposed on the screen as the camera zooms through Tehran and up over the country to show how rapidly the protests spread.
The film also opens with images of roses and the making of rosewater in a symbolic and haunting reminder of that sickeningly sweet smell. Stewart also makes use of rapid-fire cuts during the more violent interrogation scenes in a way that makes the constant threat and fear of torture loom over the film.
While the film is mostly dark in nature, Stewart does insert moments of humor. For example, he includes a humorous scene in which Bahari fabricates raunchy stories about his sex life to mess with his sexually starved interrogator. Humor, it seems, often sustained Bahari during his imprisonment. The film is beautifully done. Although the interrogation scenes are at times difficult to watch, Stewart, Bahari and García Bernal tell an important story with a political message. For this reason, this film likely requires a little bit of background knowledge of Bahari’s story and the 2009 presidential elections in Iran.
The film challenges everyone to bear witness to injustice and be courageous enough to share the story. However, the most prominent message of this story is one of hope, family and bravery in the face of oppression.
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