Rosewater

rosewaterI’m not exactly sure how I motivated myself to go see a movie that I understood was largely about torture.  Not exactly Saturday night fun!

However, walking in to the theater, the demographics said that likely most of the audience was also curious to see Jon Stewart’s first film.  What can a Comedy Central star bring to the world of drama?

The first thing to understand is that Rosewater is effectively two movies.  The first half is the events that lead up to Maziar Bahari’s arrest.  The second half is Bahari in solitary confinement and being tortured/questioned.

The first half is well paced and beautifully filmed.  The characters are well defined and relatable.  Despite the opening scenes of Bahari’s arrest, you got lured into the confidence of the safety of a foreign journalist.

It’s hard not to compare Rosewater to Argo, if only for the setting.  While Argo was clearly told from an American point of view (ask any Canadian), Rosewater seemed to be far more Iranian.  You were watching events happen from the inside out.  Nothing was black and white.  There were no totally good guys or bad guys.

As someone who’s only ever lived in Western countries, the insight into Iran is disorienting.  To watch an election go bad so quickly and revolution to appear on the streets took me by surprise and Bahari seems swept up in the circumstances.

The first half of the film uses surprising cinematography to add to the unsettled feeling.  The camera work feels reckless.  Something is happening quickly and you feel it.

Once Bahari is arrested the film slows down dramatically to the boredom of solitary confinement.  You watch Bahari go through the various stages of coping with his torture and confinement.  You watch his interrogator go through various stages of trying to get him to break.  It’s a game.  Then Bahari gets out and the film is over.

The second half of the film is anti-climactic and ill paced.  As it is a true story, there was little choice about the ending and the sequence of the events.  It was a tough challenge for any film maker, particularly a first time director.

Jon Stewart did a good job of telling a story that needed to be told.  He told it in a way that shows how well he understands his demographic and the changing style of storytelling.  He created a compelling film experience that left me disturbed and a little frightened of the parts of the world I can’t understand.

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