Published on February 17th, 2015 | by Damien Straker
Rosewater – Film Review
Reviewed by Damien Straker on February 16th, 2015
Transmission Films presents a film by Jon Stewart
Produced by Scott Rudin, Jon Stewart and Gigi Pritzker
Written by Jon Stewart, based on ‘Then They Came for Me’ by Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy
Starring: Gael García Bernal and Kim Bodnia
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography Bobby Bukowski
Edited by Jay Rabinowitz
Running time: 103 minutes
Release Date: February 19th, 2015
I expected more from Rosewater and it should have been better than it is. The film is a docudrama and the directorial debut of Jon Stewart. He is the brilliant comedian and satirical host of The Daily Show who takes news stories and parodies them and who is also an astute political commentator. He has chosen to adapt the memoir Then They Came for Me by Iranian-Canadian journalist and human rights activist Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy. The film was made because Bahari (played in the film by Gael Garcia Bernal) was a guest on The Daily Show and when people in Iran saw the footage of his parody interview they believed he was a spy and arrested him.
He was imprisoned, blindfolded and tortured and only identified his guard by the smell of rosewater and nicknamed him as such. After one-hundred and eighteen days he was set free. But sadly his film is lacking in everything but its own good will and intentions. The film has very little technical flare, aside from a montage of flying Tweets and intercutting news reel footage with the fictional material. The narrative is slow and boring, due to its glacial pacing, and its lacking dramatic tension. Its sense of authenticity is also diluted by having characters speak English instead of Arabic or a Persian language like Farsi, in spite of Stewart taking time away from his show to film the movie in the Middle East.
At the very least, the film comes from a positive, well-intentioned place. Stewart made Rosewater as atonement for his guest’s imprisonment, which is understandable because of the responsibility and guilt and the also purposefulness in using cinema to bring attention to the story. There’s humour to be found in the film too which is expected from Stewart who himself is genuinely hilarious and witty. The premise warrants humour when seeing people taking the parody interviews on The Daily Show seriously.
Some of the jokes in the film are quietly funny and directed at the ignorance of people who demand censorship. The humour is derived from cultural ignorance and intolerance. In one scene the Iranians believe shows like The Sopranos and Empire magazine are pornography. Unfortunately, the script by Stewart isn’t strong in gathering depth or meaning. The characters, particularly the side ones like the other guards and Bernal’s pregnant wife, barely register as two-dimensional and show little internal conflict and the realism is forgone by including the ghosts of relatives to whom Bahari converses. It’s a very cliché technique to have Bahari talking to his father and out of place in a social realism film.
The gaol scenes are also strangely lacking in drama because of the low danger and because Stewart hasn’t directed Bernal to reach for any intensity with his performance. As a broader story encompassing social commentary the film is saying there are parts of the world determined only to hear what they want to hear. Iran has apparently already accused Stewart of making the film with the help of the CIA, which further proves the film’s points. But it’s nothing people already well versed in politics and propaganda didn’t already know. But now Stewart has announced his retirement from The Daily Show he might be able to dedicate more time towards a second politically and satirically richer feature film.
Summary: I expected more from Rosewater and it should have been better than it is.