Thursday, February 19, 2015

ROSEWATER

Gael Garcia Bernal. Kim Bodnia


So here I am in Hong Kong for the Chinese New Year holidays and what do you know? It is the first day of the Lunar New Year and everything is closed for 4 whole days except for convenience stores like 7/11. Nothing much to do but stay home so we decided to have a movies marathon.

First up is "Rosewater" which is directed by Jon Stewart. Yes, you read that right. The late night host of satire news is quite the celebrity and a polarizing figure in TV. It was a good idea to start with a small scale, dramatic true story about political freedom for his directorial debut. A few months ago, he announced his retirement so perhaps film making would be a good career move for Stewart. 

The movie is based on a book entitled "Then They Came For Me" by Maziar Bahari, an Iranian Canadian journalist for Newsweek. He is played by Gael Garcia Bernal. In 2009, Bahari was in Tehran to cover the presidential elections but shortly after was arrested on suspicions of being a spy for the CIA, MI6 and the Mossad. He was held in captivity in a solitary cell for 118 days.

Most of the film unfolds in a small cell and there are several scenes of Bahari being blindfolded, rigorously interrogated and subjected to various forms of mental and physical torture by a man he knew only by his scent of rosewater.

The diminutive Mexican actor gives a poignant performance as Bahari. Shifting from a calm collected journalist who knows he has done nothing wrong to a fearful, nervous wreck as his prolonged incarceration takes a toll on his tormented psyche. 

Even though physically, Bahari still looks the same as the day he entered the cell, Bernal's subdued yet heartfelt characterization is spot on. You can sense his sense of utter desperation as the days pass by and he has no knowledge nor information if there are people outside who are aware of his unlawful arrest. Though we are shown footage of protests held outside the Iranian embassy in the US and Canada, the film hardly tackles on the legalities involved in proving his innocence to secure his release.

Flaws aside, I believe that "Rosewater" is a worthy drama about the realities of torture and the quest to find the truth in an oppressed state. And Jon Stewart does a solid and efficient job for a first time director tackling such a serious and sensitive subject. But he handled it with a good mixture of heavy drama and lighthearted moments. Job well done, Jon Stewart!

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