“The Daily Show’s” brand of satirical political humour has become a legit source of news for many young people and is so influential Barack Obama has been a frequent guest. But being on the show hasn’t always worked out well for guests.
In 2009, Iranian Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael García Bernal) was arrested and detained for 118 days after an interview he did on “The Daily Show” aired. The tongue-in-cheek piece featured regular correspondent Jason Jones claiming to be an American spy interviewing Bahari. Iranian officials, under the rule of newly “elected president” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, didn’t get the joke and Bahari was roused from his mother’s home and taken to jail while his pregnant English fiancée (Claire Foy) waited four months not knowing what was to become of the father of her child.
While in solitary at Evin Prison Bahari is blindfolded and interrogated by The Specialist (Kim Bodnia), a zealot who smells of rosewater. Breaking Bahari’s spirit, the interrogator convinces him to make a televised statement denouncing his actions as a “spy” for Iran’s enemies.
This is a true story, based on a memoir written by the main character, so it is no spoiler to mention that after months of physical and mental torture he is released just in time to see his child born in England.
Jon Stewart, stepping out from behind the “Daily Show” desk and into the director’s chair, divides the movie into two halves. The first half concentrates on Bahari’s coverage of the election. It’s fast, frantic and occasionally even funny mix of news and original footage that sets the scene for what is to come.
The second hour, post arrest, is slower, but more intense. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions as Bahari tries to figure out why he is there and what will happen. The blindfold adds to his fear; sightless he can’t see where the next slap might come from. The dynamic between the questioned and his questioner shifts constantly, never more so than in a scene where Bahari, Scheherazade-style, strings the Specialist along with some randy (and untrue) stories of his one thousand and one nights spent in exotic massage parlors.
Their interaction is at the heart of “Rosewater.” Stewart hasn’t opened the story up much in terms of building subtext—unlike his work on “The Daily Show,” the movie is very straightforward—but does bring sincerity and emotion to the film but the over-all “never give up” message seems trite given the backdrop of the story.