By William Wolf

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2014--ROSEWATER  Send This Review to a Friend

As writer-director, Jon Stewart is a long way from his satirical news broadcasts with his new project, “Rosewater.” Here he has taken a harrowing real-life story of Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was assigned by Newsweek to cover the Iranian elections in 2009. The Iranians arrested him and accused him of being a spy.

Bahari had appeared on Stewart’s “The Daily Show” in a spoof involving Iran. It appeared that the powers that be there did not have much of a sense of humor about that broadcast.

Stewart has done a good job in his debut outing as a film director. For one thing, he cast the excellent Gael Garcia Bernal as Bahari. Also, wherever he finds it possible, he adds a touch of humor. But the basic thrust is a shattering example of how Bahari is interrogated, pressured and tortured in an effort to get him to confess.

There are long sessions with his interrogators who, whether they really believe he is a spy or not, are under pressure to wring an admission of guilt from him. Bahari bravely endures the ordeal, trying to set the record straight. He is up against no understanding of a free press and what reporting for Newsweek might entail. Stewart handles the prison scenes, and other aspects, with expertise. He smoothly interjects memories that Bahri has of his father, who set an example with his political values and courage.

It is only after an international uproar and pressure that Bahari finally is freed. Bernal gives a powerful performance throughout, and the fact that the film is based on a true story makes it all the more fascinating. It also indicates new possibilities for the career of Jon Stewart. Reviewed October 11, 2014.

  

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