Based on real events, Gael García Bernal plays Maziar Bahari, a political correspondent for Newsweek of Iranian descent. To coincide with the 2009 elections taking place in his home nation, he returns back to Iran to cover events, where he gets unwittingly caught up in a controversial set of affairs, with thousands of protestors taking to the streets, feeling the results of vote were unjust. Given his involvement, Bahari is taken as a prisoner – away from his mother and pregnant wife, and in to the hands of the Government, where a callous guard (Kim Bodnia) interrogates him in a small confied space for over 100 days.
Initially, there’s a rich, foreboding element to this title. Not only does the opening scene begin with Bahari’s arrest, but even when we go back to the beginning of the tale – anybody who can recall the protests from the 2009 Iranian election know that matters quickly turn sour, dispelling all of the hope and anticipation Bahari and his impassioned, sanguine interview subjects appear to be carrying. Bahari works as an effective entry point into this tale too, as he’s incredibly relatable. Various popular culture references attest to that, as he’s seen debating about the pornographic nature of The Sopranos, or listening to Leonard Cohen. He could be any of us – and that’s exactly the point.
However any such immersion into this world ends abruptly there, as this piece simply doesn’t feel authentic enough to become emotionally investable. Firstly, there’s simply no denying that Bernal’s roots are that of a South American and not a Middle Eastern – and his accent certainly does little to convince us otherwise. Also, this seems a little too catered and watered down for English speaking audiences, as none of our protagonists speak to one another in their native tongue. It also appears that Stewart’s comedic tendencies get in the way somewhat, as this picture is oddly light hearted. The tone shifts between being profound and affecting, to farcical and slapstick – and we lose sight of the severity of the issues at hand, in turn for this detrimental inclination for humour. You can see why Stewart would not want to make this too heavy to digest, but he takes matters too far, compromising the narrative in the process.
Rosewater is also a touch contrived, from a stylistic point of view, even if the implementing of real life footage is seamless and compliments this story in an effective manner. So yes, it’s extremely important films such as this are out there in the public domain, bringing light to such themes and informing and educating audiences of what happens across the world to innocent people, doing innocent work. However it feels like something of a missed opportunity, as to tackle such an issue and not provoke even a slight sense of compassion or contempt from the viewer is really quite remarkable.