Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
The daring news pioneer Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, gives his directorial debut with the story of Maziar Bahari, a journalist from Canada and Iran who appeared on Stewart's show as a joke. Interviewed by funnyman Jason Jones, Behari was actually accused of being a spy. He was imprisoned by the Iranian government and placed in solitary for 118 days.
While the direction is fluid and earnest with color and heart, the restrained tone gives it a somewhat tepid feel in the mode of an hour-long documentary.
Behari (Gael Garcia Bernal) is based in London. Upon awaking he receives a tip from his friend Hamid (Arian Moayed) to cover the 2009 election in Iran. Behari speaks to progressive Mousavi supporters while also posing questions to the iron clad Ahmadinejad campaign. Along the way he agrees to be mock interviewed by Jason Jones who asks his opinions of his country as a spy for the CIA.
The next morning he is apprehended blindfolded and taken to prison in front of his mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo)
Mahari is tortured. Understandably he is terrified, in a Kafkaesque circumstance with no comprehension of what happened.
Most of the action takes place in a small bare cell and this is where the action stalls a bit with much of the episodes seeming unduly repetitive and slow in motion almost to the point of visual haiku. True to subject it may be, but as cinema experience, it makes for sleepy viewing.
Despite some soporific side effects, there is slickness to be found within the first time director's camera. As Mahari moves through downtown London images of his life pulse and slide about across the sides of buildings in the manner of Blade Runner or the sly poignance found in the work of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil".
Another highlight is the acting of Kim Bodnia as Mahari's ruthless interrogator.
For the most part though, the action follows convention with Mahari held in confinement to absolute silence as he cries out with little visual relief.
There is, however, one beautiful and crazy scene where Garcia Bernal dances in solitary to Leonard Cohen that almost makes the film.
One hungers for more such verve.
Stewart's first film is an effective account of the human spirit and it is certainly worthwhile especially if you know little of Iran's tumultuous election. As an engrossing film, however, "Rosewater" feels half hearted and sketchy, having the feel of an effort, rather than a deep exploration.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org