DVD: Rosewater (2014)

March 9, 2015 | By


Rosewater2014_sFilm: Good

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: n/a

Label: Universal

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  February 10, 2015

Genre:  Docu-Drama / Biography

Synopsis: Dramatization of Maziar Bahari’s arrest, torture, and eventual release from prison after reporting on the Green Revolution during Iran’s 2009 presidential elections.

Special Features:  5 Featurettes: Iran’s Controversial Election + The Story of Maziar Bahari + Real Spies Have TV Shows + What Happens in New Jersey… + A Director’s Perspective.





Based on They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival, the 2011 memoir by Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, Jon Stewart’s dramatization of the events that led to Bahari being arrested, interrogated, tortured, and eventually released from Iran’s Evin Prison should’ve been a visceral work that not only projected the human torment of being separated from the world and left to rot in a psychological Hell, but offer some backstory of Iran’s recent political history from a monarchy to the 1979 revolution which brought in a powerful theocracy.

Bahari was stationed in Tehran as a Newsweek correspondent to cover the 2009 presidential elections in which a significant percentage of voters were backing moderate candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, a figure many younger voters had hoped would at the very least reveal their desire for a shift towards a more democratic, less theological-entrenched government. When the provincially minded Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was crowned victor, waves of a protest, dubbed the Green Movement, filled the streets, leading to vicious suppression by governmental forces.

Bahari was covering the election and gathering interview and video footage when he was arrested one morning at the home of his mother (Persian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo), and charged with being a spy for four agencies, including the America’s CIA, Britain’s MI6, Israel’s Mossad, and, er, Newsweek. Adding to the surreal tone of his sudden arrest were key pieces of evidence proving his status as a spy, including a spoof interview conducted for Stewart’s The Daily Show in which Bahari is interviewed as a genial, self-admitted U.S. spy.

The propagandistic value of charging, convicting, and sentencing an international figure with spreading lies for a Zionist-American conspiracy to bring down the country’s very existence was pure gold, but Bahari’s handler, dubbed Rosewater because of his perfumed scent, failed to break the journalist, and in the end enough international furor led by his wife and later prominent figures such as Hilary Clinton proved too embarrassing for Iran’s government, mandating Bahari’s release and burying the history of this bungled attempt to ridicule the West.

Stewart may have been moved by Bahari’s memoir and felt a sharp level of guilt for the satirical interview which ran on his show and was used as ‘irrefutable’ evidence by Bahari’s captors, but the first-time writer-director’s efforts come off as borderline sophomoric, if not amateurish. Rosewater isn’t awful or inept, but its script is more melodramatic and disorganized than a banal TV movie. It’s an earnest work that demonstrates a lack of experience in organizing historic details to contextualize serious events, and misdirecting Bahari’s recollections in a manner that’s awfully melodramatic.

One could argue Rosewater was designed as an easy-to-swallow snapshot of Iran’s state of affairs circa 2009 for western suburban audiences, but it’s also kind of sloppy. The worst section by far is the first third in which Stewart attempts to dramatize the rise of the Green Movement, the use of Twitter to circumvent government censorship, and Bahari meeting the new wave of revolutionaries, but there’s also the wobbly performances which perhaps reflect Stewart’s earnest direction.

The other quandary is the lead casting of Gael Garcia Bernal and Kim Bodnia as Bahari and Rosewater, respectively. Both are fine actors with international credits, but why didn’t Stewart opt for a cast with Iranian actors?

Their accents are mediocre at best, and Bernal plays Bahari more like a novice journalist, wearing visages of suspicion and Spielbergian wonderment in the film’s first third. Bodnia (Nightwatch), though, tries to give the torturer (referred to as a “specialist”) a bit more depth as a man doing his job, but feeling a little conflicted by an assignment he feels is lacking in purpose. That depiction of Rosewater as an intellectually feeble foot soldier skilled only in intimidation and brutality provides a stark contrast to the weak material Bernal has to rely on, making Bodnia’s Rosewater the most magnetic character; we’re ultimately more interested in what transformed a simple man into an obedient attack dog instead of the gentle fowl that receives tortuous blood-letting.

Perhaps the most challenging element from Bahari’s memoir is his imaginary discussions with the spirits of his late father and sister in his windowless cell, each having been imprisoned by the Shah and the theocratic regime, respectively. They’re moments that may bring deeply needed light and warmth within the printed pages of Bahari’s writings, but on film it’s kind of a no-win situation, especially when the illusory figures and brief, fleeting flashbacks are steeped in melodrama. (Bahari’s childhood recollections of being reunited with sister Maryam during her imprisonment are especially awful.)

Maziar Bahari’s background includes filmmaking – he studied at Montreal’s Corcordia University – which makes one scene in Rosewater’s first third inauthentic. Bahari is seen filming a protestor successfully climbing the fence of the Basij compound where Iran’s motorcycle thugs are headquartered, and when the man is shot, Bahari lowers his camera for a moment to react for the audience’s benefit before continuing filming. A seasoned photo-journalist wholly familiar with the political unrest in his country would not stop filming and ruin what’s clearly the money shot that’ll draw attention and raise the ire of western audiences.

Howard Shore’s music is understated, but too western, and dramatically tepid. Rosewater would’ve benefitted from a score crafted by a (Persian) composer drawing from the instruments and sounds of Iran, if not subversively interpolating elements banned or frowned upon by the theocratic regime.

At best, Rosewater is a primer on how not to present a complex story within an easy-to-digest running time with PG-level violence. The intentions and results are wholly earnest, but the film isn’t the directorial calling card Stewart may have wanted.

Maziar Bahari’s own recent directorial work is the documentary To Light a Candle (2014), and some of his prior work is available online, including Mohammad and the Matchmaker (2004) on YouTube; and And Along Came a Spider (2003), Targets: Reporters in Iraq (2005),  An Iranian Odyssey: Mossadegh, Oil and the 1953 Coup (2010), and From Cyrus to Ahmadinejad: The Not So Secret Iran-Israel War (2012) on Vimeo.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

Comments are closed.