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Rosewater

Hero-worship deflects Jon Stewart’s aim for a great movie

After filming the Iranian uprising in 2009, journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael García Bernal) is imprisoned, interrogated by a man who identifies himself only as Rosewater (Kim Bodnia). <<© Open Road Films>>

Iranian-born journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael García Bernal: El Ardor) has great hopes for his homeland. Living in Canada and working for Newsweek, Bahari specializes in reporting on Iranian politics. In the week leading up to the country’s 2009 elections, he returns to Tehran optimistic that Mir-Hossein Mousavi will be elected president and usher in a more moderate era. The younger generation shares his hope.
    Their hopes are dashed. Fanatically conservative leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is re-elected in a seeming landslide. Iranians take to the streets decrying the election as a fraud and demanding a recount. The government responds with violence, slaughtering protestors.
    Bahari sees it all from behind the camera. Knowing the risk, he gives his footage of the deadly protests to the BBC. The night after the footage leaves the country, Bahari is dragged from his mother’s home and imprisoned.
    Accused of being a spy for the West, he is thrown in solitary confinement where his only human contact is with an interrogator who identifies himself as Rosewater.
    Can Bahari keep his integrity? Or will the government break him as violently as they did the protestors?
    A compelling true tale of one man’s struggle to maintain his sanity under torture, Rosewater scratches at greatness but ultimately settles for mediocrity.
    If you’ve watched a news program in the last 10 years, you won’t be surprised to learn that the repressive Iranian government isn’t a fan of protests or a free press. First-time director Jon Stewart’s choice of graphics adds to the sense that he’s creating an extended news report.
    Stewart also fails to give his subject — hence his lead — much character. Bahari is so unrelentingly saint-like in his persecution that it’s hard to relate to his humanity. Like most saints, Bahari is most interesting when he’s suffering. When he’s free, he’s simply a good guy: He doesn’t judge the political climate, he makes friends wherever he goes, he looks on the bright side, he loves his wife, he chats with friendly ghosts. Add some singing animals, and he’s starring in a Disney movie. His motives are unexamined and his naiveté is improbable. How could Bahari be so shocked by his false imprisonment when his father and sister were held captive for years on trumped up charges?
    Stewart has sacrificed his great movie to hero-worship.

Fair Drama • R • 103 mins.