Film Friday: Rosewater

There are only two things that confuse me in life. The complexities of the Iranian system of government, and my sexuality. Unfortunately for me, both of these were tested on me in the 2014 biopic, Rosewater.

The story behind Rosewater is just as interesting as Rosewater itself. Former host of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart (#Bae4Life) unwittingly got a good friend of his arrested and tortured. Wrought with guilt, Jon decided to make a movie about his friend. This movie would turn into Rosewater.

Rosewater tells the true story of Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian based in London. He was dispatched to Tehran in 2009 to report on the presidential election between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mir-Houssein Mousavi. When Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, there were mass protests and claims that the election was rigged. Maziar stayed behind and performed the illegal act of filming these protests. Maziar was subsequently arrested not on charges of filming the protest, but espionage. During the election, Maziar Bahari had taken part in a segment for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in which the Canadian comedian Jason Jones jokingly referred to himself as a spy and asked Maziar for information on Iran. The Revolutionary Guard (Iran’s police) thought that the video was real, and that the Canadian comedian was an American spy. They detained Maziar and tortured him for information for 117 days, information he did not have.

Obviously, the first thing we have to talk about in a movie like this is the story itself. I have to be brutally honest, apart from what I just wrote, there isn’t much more. The film does explore several subplots relating to the torture, in particular Maziar’s relationship with his torturer, but they are often brought up and put down far too quickly. They aren’t given enough time to develop and give meaning.

However, the story is saved somewhat by the writing. Interviews with Maziar Bahari reveal the man is deeply sarcastic. His memoir, Then They Came For Me, which Rosewater is an adaptation of, showed that even when he was subjected to cruel and unnecessary punishment, he would crack a joke or two. The writing is, thankfully, faithful to this. Even when confronted by terrifying torturers, Maziar will sneak in a snide, hilarious remark.

Somehow, this looks more like a scene from a kinky porno than an endearing political thriller. Photo:
Somehow, this looks more like a scene from a kinky porno than an endearing political thriller. Photo:

Then there is the acting. Maziar Bahari was played by Gael Garcia Bernal. At first I was hesitant at hearing this (a Mexican actor playing a Persian person. Apparently we really can’t tell brown people apart) but then I looked back at GGB. Or, more accurately, looked at him.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you 1.68m of delicious Mexican food. Photo:
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you 1.68m of delicious Mexican food. Photo:

Gael is known for being a very intelligent actor. He runs his own film festival dedicated to documentaries and will only ever pick roles that are interesting. So, did he pull of Maziar Bahari?

This is the man responsible for John Oliver's show and Trevor Noah becoming Daily Show host. Political comedy nerds, you have found your God. Photo:
This is the man responsible for John Oliver’s show and Trevor Noah becoming Daily Show host. Political comedy nerds, pray before your God. Photo:

GGB’s acting was amazing to say the least. He was able to convey almost everything about Maziar, from his introversion to his quiet sarcasm. One gets the feel of a well rounded character when they see Gael as Bahari.

These guys. Making out. Make it happen. Now. Photo:
These guys. Making out. Make it happen. Now. Photo:

Then there’s the direction. This is where previously stated bae Jon Stewart comes in. While Jon Stewart has acted (horrifically) before, he has never directed. This was his foray into the grand world of the nickelodeon; how did he do? Could’ve been worse.

Relax Jon. It's not that bad. Photo:
Relax Jon. It’s not that bad. Photo:

Stewart’s camerawork is very much in homage of online ‘citizen journalism’ (a.k.a those shaky videos you see on the news that contain a crowd of people screaming from gunfire and/or chanting death to whomever deserves death to be chanted at them). Apart from that description though, his style isn’t that unique. He incorporates kinetic typography (moving words on screen) but is overly reliant on jump cuts and zooms. Granted these aren’t bad per se, rather saturated. The jump cuts, in particular, are a double-edged sword. They create comedy, but can also lead to fast editing which confuses the viewer. Things move too quickly, and its hard to keep up at times.

How I feel watching Rosewater. Photo: GIPHY
How I feel watching Rosewater. Photo: GIPHY

I feel that I may be biased walking into this film. Suppose you did not read this review or haven’t heard of the story whatsoever. You just found the DVD (those still exist, right?) and put it into your TV and watched. No expectations, just an experience. I would say that you would be very confused. The film very much relies on the audience knowing the events beforehand. For example, the name. The movie opens with a voiceover by Maziar in which he recalls a Shi’ite Muslim ceremony which involved a scent that was a mixture of sweat and rosewater. This is never brought up again. In the book, however, Maziar mentions that his torturer smelt similar to this sweat/rosewater mix. This point isn’t brought up in the movie, making the title seem bizarre. There are other scenarios like this in the movie, parts that require the audience know a bit of backstory beforehand. If they don’t they’ll just be confused.

Most people's reaction to Rosewater. Photo: GIPHY
Most people’s reaction to Rosewater. Photo: GIPHY

Overall, Rosewater is not a bad movie. It may falter in some terms, yes, but it’s stellar acting and humanizing (if somewhat rushed) story bring it up.

Rosewater gets a 5/7.

The Update would like to apologize for the author subjecting you to painful mental images of him in various homo-erotic situations. We have seen him do this in real life, it’s not pretty.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily endorsed by The Update. We encourage anyone who would like to send an opinion piece to sign up in the join us section of the website.

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