Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Kim Bodnia and Shohreh Aghdashloo
Directed By: Jon Stewart
Running Time: 103 minutes
Open Road Films
Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Imagine being taken away from your family and friends, blindfolded and dropped into solitary confinement. Ants crawl in and out of the meager food portions you’re given. The only solace you have is the memories of your family that talk to you in your head and the scribbles on the wall of others before you. This is the reality, Iranian-born journalist Maziar Bahari (Bernal) faces during the fraudulent re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.
Bahari is in Iran, covering this, much forgotten about, slice of contemporary world history. He walks the streets, interviewing his fellow countrymen and capturing footage of the increasing riots and anger over the corrupt handling of democracy. After filming a murderous retaliation by the military, the Iranian state quickly moves in and detains him. His mom witnesses the secretive extraction and soon, his pregnant wife in London will learn of his plight.
“Rosewater” may be a film that catalogues 118 days of imprisonment and torture, but through it’s rough imagery, it promotes an uplifting message. It’s filmed and written by directorial newcomer Jon Stewart. He trades in his political buffoonery to pay respects to a man he admires and respects. While “Rosewater” could be considered a sort of love letter to Bahari’s sacrifices, it instead channels Bahari’s cause and inspires others who hope to find and document the truth.
Stewart is far from a journalist, instead preferring to be a satirist safe behind a fake news desk, but you can’t doubt his admiration for those who head to the front lines to archive the social and political changes constantly happening around us. When resorting to humor in “Rosewater”, Stewart gives us something light hearted to help boost the morale of viewers enduring Bahari’s predicament.
Bernal is so humbling in his role, he provides a practical warmth to Bahari’s persona, that helps foster the more valiant side of our hero. Kim Bodnia may steal the show here as the man who interrogates Bahari. He’s referred to as the specialist at the prison, but Bahari remember’s him by his scent, Rosewater. The specialist is a man consumed with plucking the fallacious truth from Bahari. He’s constantly flipping back and forth between deceptive banter and angered restraint, and Bodnia handles both of them perfectly.
“Rosewater” offers hope and it’s something we’re in desperate need of, at least if you watch the news. Oppression still exists, and always will, throughout the world. The movie ends by telling us that thousands of journalists and other innocents still sit in prison waiting for that magnificent day where they can bask in the sun that doesn’t shine through unforgiving prison bars. The truth waits to be found and no one can stop the people who spend their life finding it.