One might think that the big screen directorial debut of The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart would be a comedy. Not true of Rosewater. Sure, it has its comedic moments but the story is far from funny.
Rosewater is based on the true story of Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal), an Iranian-born Canadian journalist. In 2009, he traveled to his native Iran to cover the presidential election for Newsweek magazine. While there, he appeared on a segment of The Daily Show interviewed by Jason Jones. That appearance was partially responsible for his arrest and imprisonment for 118 days in Evin prison. Accused of being a spy of foreign governments, Bahari could do nothing but endure the harsh treatment he received at the hands of his interrogator, Javadi (Kim Bodnia). Barahi nicknamed the interrogator, “Rosewater” because of the distinctive scent that gave away his presence, even when Bahari was blindfolded.
Garcia Bernal, the Mexican actor best known for The Motorcycle Diaries, portrays Bahari with the full range of emotions that he must have gone through as a prisoner. One of the most chilling lines of the film comes from Rosewater’s boss. He said, “You must not just take his blood. You must take his hope.”
As a viewer, I walked out of the theater feeling the power of hope. It’s one of the three theological virtues, together with faith and love. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven” (CCC, no. 1818). Despite being held in isolation and experiencing the physical darkness of being blindfolded most of the time, Bahari found hope. At one point, Rosewater allows Bahari a moment outside. As he stands blindfolded in the small prison yard, he reaches above his head to feel the warmth of the sun for just a few seconds on his hand.
In addition to being a commentary on hope, Rosewater joins other films on journalism that illustrate the sacrifices made by professional journalists in search of the truth. Veronica Guerin, The Killing Fields, The Insider, and Good Night and Good Luck come to mind. When Bahari finds himself in the midst of one of the protests that broke out in the aftermath of the election, he is reluctant to film the event for fear of negative repercussions. His friend, Davood (Dimitri Leonidas), challenges him. Referring to Bahari’s camera, Davood says, “You have a real weapon and you choose not to use it.” Journalists sometimes get a bad rap as crazed people going after a story with no respect for a subject’s privacy. I don’t think this is a fair portrait as I suspect that many journalists are serious professionals who just want to fulfill their role as providers of information to the best of their ability. To this day, Maziar Bahari actively advocates on behalf of journalists still imprisoned in Iran.