Movie Review: ‘Rosewater’ An Earnest Portrayal with a Surprisingly Comedic Perspective


Cole Clay // Film Critic

ROSEWATER | 103 min. | Rated R | Director: Jon Stewart | Stars: Gael García Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Dimitri Leonidas, Haluk Bilginer, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Golshifteh Farahani, Amir El-Masry, Nasser FarisNuman Acar and Claire Foy

In the summer of 2013, The Daily Show host Jon Stewart took a sabbatical from the long standing political satire program to write and direct his filmmaking debut ROSEWATER. The project on the surface comes across as your run-of-the-mill story of modern political oppression and how hope will always triumph, and it many ways it is this, but Stewart puts the story into a perspective that’s both thoughtful and earnest.

ROSEWATER is adapted from Maziar Bahari’s 2011 memoir Then They Came For Me: A Family’s Story Of Love, Captivity, And Survival. The film picks up as Bahari (Gael García Bernal) travels back to his native country report on the 2009 Iraqi Presidential election for Newsweek. Bahari is subsequently detained for nearly four months by the Iranian government for fear he is an American spy, but where would they get this notion? Here is where Stewart’s motive for making the film comes into play. Just before Bahari’s detainment, he appeared on The Daily Show in a spoof where an inept correspondent claims the journalist (Bahari) is indeed a spy.

Gael García Bernal plays Maziar Bahari in Jon Stewart's Rosewater. Photo courtesy of Open Road Films (II) .

Gael García Bernal plays Maziar Bahari in Jon Stewart’s Rosewater. Photo courtesy of Open Road Films (II) .

Stewart doesn’t depict the imprisonment in graphic detail, but the duration does come across as debilitating. And Bernal’s performance slowly articulates the psychological effects that this type of ordeal would have on an individual.

In typical Stewart fashion ROSEWATER turns controversial political events into boisterous humor. This approach doesn’t detract from the sentiment of the film. Frankly, it’s a refreshing take upon the political drama – many of which treat themselves as self-serious prestige pictures, such as Angelina Jolie’s IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY and last year’s CLOSED CIRCUIT to name a couple. The comedy is utilized to engage the audience in the experience with Bahari, but more importantly the laughs aren’t meant to taunt.

ROSEWATER doesn’t take a direct position against the 2009 Iranian elections – even though it’s obvious where the film’s allegiance lies – what the film really trying to communicate is encouraging the citizens of earth to take a stand against repression and absolute control of any kind.

ROSEWATER opens today.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.