Front Row at the Movies
Jon Stewart Gets Serious with "Rosewater"
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Jon Stewart is a comedian, but he tackles thorny political subjects on "The Daily Show." So it’s not too surprising that he chose to get serious for a moment, taking the summer off to direct a movie about BBC journalist Maziar Bahari’s 118-day detainment in Iran.
Maziar Bahari has been a frequent guest on Stewart’s TV show.
"Rosewater" -- the title of Stewart’s film -- is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
In 2009, Bahari was arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, supposedly because of a satirical interview he gave on "The Daily Show" about Iran’s presidential election.
During his time in Evin Prison, he was tortured and interrogated. Usually blindfolded, the only distinguishing feature of his interrogator was the small of rosewater cologne. Hence, the film’s name.
Filmed in Jordan (as a stand-in for Tehran), "Rosewater" stars Mexican actor Gael García Bernal ("A Little Bit of Heaven") as Bahari. Kim Bodnia is the character known as Rosewater.
Being this film is based on true events detailed in Maziar bahari’s memoir "Then They Came for Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival," it’s no spoiler to tell you he was finally released following pressure from Newsweek Magazine, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and his pregnant fiancé.
For his release, he was required to pay $300,000 bail, provide a video confession, and promise to spy on a list of Western journalists for the Revolutionary Guard. When he renounced his confession after returning to London, he was tried in absentia and sentenced to thirteen-and-a-half years’ imprisonment and 74 lashes. Despite threats to bring him back to Iran "in a bag," he remains at large and cooperated with Stewart in the making of this movie.
Stewart’s use of news footage of a debate between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and one of his challengers, and video showing the violence against protestors of the contested election results, adds a sense of verisimilitude.
But he’s still a first-time director finding his way, despite a little coaching from the sidelines by Hollywood wunderkind J. J. Abrams ("Star Trek," etc.).
Nevertheless, Iran’s State TV has accused Jon Stewart (né Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz) of using Zionist backing for the little $10-million movie. Note: "Rosewater" was fully financed by Oddlot Entertainment, which has given us such movies as "The Way Way Back," "Ender’s Game," and "Draft Day".
Stewart was also accused of being a "CIA superspy."
Good material for "The Daily Show."