Imagine being barricaded in a barren concrete room for five months. No contact with anyone but a man whose only job is to break you. Nothing to do except talk to your delusions. All this for the crime of bearing witness.
Maziar Bahari faced this reality as a journalist detained by the Iranian government in Jon Stewart’s new movie, Rosewater. The film, based on Bahari’s autobiography, documents his time spent in solitary confinement in a Middle Eastern prison.
It only seems natural that Stewart would have a hand in the big screen adaptation, considering his show’s hand in the story itself. An interview done by The Daily Show’s “foreign affairs correspondent”, Jason Jones, led to Bahari’s arrest. Questions like “Are you a spy?” followed by non-denying answers from Bahari, mixed with footage he shot of Iranian officials’ responses to peaceful protests, sparked the government seizure.
Despite Stewart’s light-hearted satirical background, this film deviated immensely from his usual tone. The story took an organic and realistic look at the tyrannical political system in the Middle East and the civilian reaction to political injustice. Being limited to a 10’-by-7’ box for the majority of the movie allowed the acting to shine through and captured sensitive movements, such as Bahari’s (Gael Garcia Bernal) descent into madness.
This subtle approach to not-so-subtle content also appears in the way the film portrayed torture. Instead of explicitly showing physical punishment, Stewart decided to leave it looming in the air.
However, one of the biggest complaints moviegoers had was the use of English as the main language. When I talked to people after the show, one man commented that the film would have been more powerful had it been shot in Persian, the native language of Iran. I suppose this was a sacrifice of authenticity Stewart made in order to have the film and its messages about government abuse, the importance of journalism, and the will of the human spirit be more accessible to a wider English-understanding audience.
Thought-provoking and inspiring, Rosewater is definitely worth the visit to the TIFF Bell Lightbox (the only theatre playing the film in Toronto at present).