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Rosewater—Movie Review

Homesman-Gael Garcia Bernal-680If ever a film earned rooting interest, it is Rosewater. As an admirer of Daily Show host Jon Stewart, I had high
hopes for his filmmaking debut, a heartfelt drama about the imprisonment of
Iranian-born journalist Maziar Bahari in Tehran during the aftermath of
presidential elections in 2009. Although he is Mexican, Gael García Bernal
seems credible as the savvy reporter who left his pregnant wife in London for
what was supposed to be a brief trip to his homeland. The simmering situation
in Tehran, and the reporter’s bold efforts to chronicle the story, result in
his arrest.

Because we know that Bahari is alive and well, the tension
in Rosewater must come from the
depiction of his four month spell in prison and his relationship with his chief
interrogator, the title character (well played by Kim Bodnia). But Stewart
works so hard to avoid clichés, and employ restraint, in this crucial part of
the film that the drama we rightly expect never bears fruit. There is irony and
a dash of dark humor in the characterizations of Rosewater and his superior,
who misinterpret Western culture and find their prisoner a source of constant
frustration. We don’t often see this situation from the point of view of the
captors.

But I never felt a connection to Bahari. It’s one thing to
absorb the facts of the situation, which are clearly set forth, but without that
emotional tie an essential ingredient is missing. I may decry the injustice on
an intellectual level but I wanted to care about the human story much more than
I did.

It may be that Stewart’s friendship with Bahari, which began
when the journalist first appeared on The
Daily Show
, made him too close to his subject. Bernal is a fine actor, but
I never felt the fire within. (If you want to see him in an outstanding
political drama, watch Pablo Larrain’s No,
from 2012, set in Chile during the Pinochet regime.)

I salute Jon Stewart for choosing such an ambitious subject
for his debut as writer and director. Rosewater
is a creditable first-time feature, but I have to rank it as a disappointment. 

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