“They have decided to kill you.”
In 2009, Jason Jones, a correspondent for The Daily Show, did a standard Daily Show bit. He went to Iran to cover their elections, and posed as a “spy” while interviewing Iranian journalist, Maziar Bahari. It was silly and funny and obviously a piss take with Bahari in on the joke. The only problem is, Iranian leaders aren’t known for their sense of humour or appreciation of silly, funny piss takes. Soon after, Maziar Bahari was imprisoned and interrogated by government officials for 118 days, with The Daily Show interview used as one of the major pieces of evidence against him. I guess Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, felt just a little responsible, because when it came time for him to make his first movie, he made the story of Bahari’s imprisonment. He made Rosewater.
Leaving his pregnant wife in London, Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) heads to his native Iran to cover the upcoming elections. Armed with a video camera, Bahari meets the new generation of Iranians, who openly oppose the dictatorial leadership of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. When an obviously rigged election sees Ahmadinejad re-elected by a landslide, protests erupt around the city. Classic Ahmadinejad, he decides arrests and interrogations are the best way to deal with the unrest. And who better to detain, than a journalist sympathetic to the liberal cause. A journalist who even lives in the decedent west. A journalist like Maziar Bahari.
Rosewater is obviously an important story that needed to be told. The only problem is, it comes across as an important movie that feels like homework. I never felt like the movie was preaching at me, but it kind of felt like the threat of preachiness was always there, waiting to pounce. It also seems a little obvious and on the nose for the face of The Daily Show to choose this movie as his directorial debut. We get it Jon, you’re a current affairs guy who lifts the lid on political hypocrisy and reveals the insanities of the world.
While I think Jon Stewart does a pretty good job and has some interesting visual ideas, I also think Rosewater makes it very obvious that this is the work of a first time director and feature film writer. Inconsistent voiceover that appears sporadically to fill in gaps that the movie obviously hasn’t been able to make clear. An over reliance on title cards to make sure we always know when and where a scene is taking place, because the movie obviously hasn’t been able to make it clear. People speaking in English with heavy accents instead of using their own native tongue. Awkward expositional dialogue as characters explain things to each other that they already know, but we, the audience need to learn… Because the movie obviously hasn’t been able to make it clear.
But again, while all of that stuff is there, it’s never too overbearing. Because Stewart off sets it just enough with his pretty good directorial work an interesting visual ideas. It’s more than enough to prove that he has something unique to say through the medium of film. And now that he’s retiring from The Daily Show, I’m intrigued to see what he says next.