Glasgow Film Festival: Gael García Bernal heads up Jon Stewart's directorial debut
Whatever satirist Jon Stewart decides to do after ending his stint as host of The Daily Show, he’s got a promising sideline as a writer-director to fall back on. His debut film Rosewater is a small-scale but heartfelt drama that delivers a simple and effective message about the importance of political freedom.
Gael García Bernal plays Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, arrested in 2009 and held for 118 days in captivity within a solitary cell inside Iran’s Evin Prison. During this time Bahari was blindfolded, rigorously interrogated and subjected to various forms of mental and physical torture by a man he knew only by his smell of rosewater (The Bridge’s Kim Bodnia). Initially incredulous at the suggestion that he is a spy, Bahari struggles to hold onto his sanity until he finds unusual ways of turning the tables on his captor, exploiting the absurdity of his situation.
Stewart has a dog in this particular fight; Bahari had given an interview to The Daily Show shortly before his arrest, and this seems to have played a part in triggering his ordeal. Stewart plays his own role in these events down and focuses instead on how Bahari kept himself together under pressure, as detailed in his memoir Then They Came for Me, on which the film is based. What makes Rosewater especially engaging is how Bernal plays Bahari as a timid and decidedly un-heroic figure, naively caught in a bureaucratic nightmare.
Stewart’s satirical tendencies only begin to show in the last 20 minutes, when Bahari retreats into himself and stages a Leonard Cohen disco in his head to irk his captors. Such amusing touches manage to embellish this true-life story without distracting from the admirable, gruelling authenticity of Stewart’s film.
Screening on Sun 22 Feb and Mon 23 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2015. General release from Fri 8 May.