In Theatres: 
Nov 14, 2014
Running Time: 
103 minutes

Based on the memoir Then They Came for Me by Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy, Rosewater covers the 100+ days Bahari, a reporter for Newsweek, spent in an Iranian prison under suspicion of espionage.

Coming from a family of previously imprisoned communists, Bahari (Gael García Bernal) returns to his homeland of Iran to cover the 2009 presidential election. Iran is split in support of incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his opposition candidates Mir­Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. People supporting Mousavi sport green and fill the streets with enthusiasm. Voting Ahmadinejad out of office seems so possible that the air is electric. Bahari befriends and films local Mousavi supporters illegally obtaining satellite television to educate themselves, nightly demonstrations, and Ahmadinejad supporters.

During his assignment, Bahari interviews with The Daily Show’s Jason Jones. Jones, dressed in a keffiyeh and dark sunglasses, pretends to be a spy asking the usual absurd questions the show is known for. Bahari enjoys the interview, but it is quickly forgotten in the hum of the upcoming election and the subsequent fall out after Ahmadinejad was re­elected.

On the strength of this interview Bahari spends over one hundred days imprisoned in solitary confinement. He is constantly interrogated while blindfolded and comes to know his interrogator as Rosewater (Kim Bodnia) for the scent that he wears. Rosewater attempts to take away Bahari’s hope, but every piece of evidence the present is more ridiculous than the last. Starting with his arrest, Bahari is accused of hoarding pornography (it’s a Soprano’s DVD box set), asked about his connections to Russian authors he’s liked on Facebook, and quizzed about his many trips to New Jersey.

A few things are immediately clear: The Iranian government lacks imagination, a sense of humor, is fragile and terrorfied. Bahari’s commitment to bearing witness and telling the world what is happening in Iran fills them with a fear so illogical that accusing Newsweek of being an espionage network seems like a reasonable thing to do. What is also clear is that Rosewater is simply middle management.

Subverting the stereotype of the all powerful interrogator/torturer, Rosewater isn’t a cartoon, comic book villain; he has a supervisor he must answer to. The supervisor has strict expectations and presents a timeline in which Bahari’s confession must be extracted. Rosewater is shown on his phone placating his wife for another evening he worked late. This is a nine to five for Rosewater, not his passion.

Rosewater depicts the dark and trying times that Bahari lives through. The toll solitary confinement takes, the constant questioning, and details abuse are not spared. However, there are also copious amounts of humor (no doubt thanks to Jon Stewart’s writing and directing) and inspiring hope. Stewart manages to successfully distill a tumultuous political conflict and illustrates its intersections in the interactions between Bahari and Rosewater while also presenting the humanity that is rarely given to the Iranian people. A great debut.

Maria Jackson
Review by Maria Jackson
Follow her @ Twitter
Friend her @ Facebook