Rosewater: Review


Way back in September of last year, I wrote, completely wrongly, that Rosewater would be a big contender in 2015’s award season. Written and directed by Jon Stewart, the host of the extremely popular and multi-award winning The Daily Show, the true story of a journalist imprisoned for being a ‘spy’ seemed to have all the makings of a certified award winner. But then, what do I know right? 

No such thing happened – in fact, Rosewater seemed to fall off of the radar completely, until finally showing up in UK theatres this weekend. Now, having seen the film, it’s easy to see why the film didn’t garner the success I thought it would, although that isn’t to say the film is dreadful by any means.

Depicting the true story of Iranian-Canadian journalist, Mazair Bahari, who was detained by the Iranian government under false accusations of spying for America, Rosewater’s focus feels torn between fact and fiction – meaning that in turn, it ends up falling between two stools. 

Stewart, who has a personal investment in the story – his typically satirical interview with Bahari was used as ‘evidence’ for the journo’s detainment by the government – essentially splits the film into two parts. 

The first part feels like a quasi-documentary, as he splices real life footage of the 2009 Iranian election protests, with the dramatic story – transporting us to the place and time, but at the cost of the narrative. It isn’t until the film’s much better second half, that Rosewater begins to find its feet.

As soon as Bahari is imprisoned and confined to a small room, the film becomes extremely personal – almost spiritual. Politics are left to one side as Stewart, rather beautifully, explores the mental state of Mazair when he was held prisoner.

In these sequences, Bahari has conversations with the ghosts of his family members, who were also imprisoned at some stage of their lives. Tender, heartfelt discussions that make him reflect on his life, as well as encourage him not to confess to the false accusations held against him.

What’s more interesting though is the exploration into the relationship between captive and captor, when we’re introduced to Bahari’s interrogator and titular character of the film, Rosewater – so named because of his distinguishable odour.

Rosewater himself is as equally an interesting character as Bahari; he too a victim of the Iranian government’s suffocating control. What initially starts out as a strictly antagonistic relationship, evolves over time into something more respectful – a subtle civility that suggests some common ground between the two.

The development of their relationship is wonderful to watch and is Rosewater’s saving grace. What’s surprising – or perhaps not so surprising if your a fan of The Daily Show – is how Jon Stewart manages to derive humour from the least humourous situation you could imagine.

It’s Stewart’s writing and direction that is the most exciting thing about Rosewater. At times it perhaps looks like it were made for television, where it distinctly looks like somebody’s first feature film, but what the film lacks in style, it more than makes up for in substance. There’s no denying Jon Stewart’s talents as a writer/director and the prospect of further projects from him, is a genuinely exciting thing.

With Rosewater, Stewart has shown that he can tell a deeply personal story, as well as as a relevant, politically charged one. If he had tightened up the first half ever so slightly, it would be a much better film, but it’s still a moving, absorbing, and surprisingly witty watch that, perhaps most importantly, promises great things for Stewart’s future in film.

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