Director: John Stewart
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Kim Bodnia, and Dimitri Leonidas
Synopsis: Rosewater follows Maziar Bahari, a Canadian Iranian journalist for Newsweek, while he covers the Tenth Iranian Presidential Election in 2009. During his trip Bahari conducts several interviews that show the split in support for the candidates, but also shines a light on the key cultural differences that divide the country.
After participating in an interview for the Daily Show on Comedy Central and filming the riots following the announcements that Ahmadinejad won the election, Bahari was detained for 118 days under the false allegations that he was a spy working with the CIA. Rosewater shows Baharis struggle to prove his innocence in a country that fights to keep itself isolated from the rest of the world. Bahari takes on the monumental task of keeping his sanity while in isolation while also trying to convince Iranian Officials that other cultures art, music, and way of life are not intended to be seen as a threat to their Society.
Over the past few decades several films have been released that illustrate the tension and struggle in the Middle East. Films such as Black Hawk Down, Jar Head, Zero Dark Thirty, and Argo focus and emphasize the fight between clearly defined groups of “good” and “evil.” In many, if not all of these films, the Middle Eastern opposition is portrayed as having indisputably biased intentions. They are represented as a stoic enemy that will never compromise their culture, beliefs, or function of society despite the evolution of the world around them.
While it cannot be denied that certain individuals holding a position of power in the Middle East are vigilant towards maintaining the order they’ve managed to keep for hundreds of years, Rosewater takes a deeper look into how this culture has evolved and introduces a humanized perspective towards Middle Eastern society.
Rosewater does not take an entirely neutral tone throughout the film and has some subtle nuances that reinforce Western Society’s traditional perception of Iran. However, the dialogue used to pull viewers towards one side of the story is minimal. The majority of the film focuses on showing the strengths and vulnerabilities with both sides of Iranian culture from the citizens’ perspective. The film revolves around Maziar Bahari’s experiences and interaction with a diverse group of Iranian Citizens and Government Officials as he covers the tenth Iranian Presidential Election.
Bahari conducts interviews with supporters of the traditional regime and their more contemporary counterparts. But it’s during the few scenes where these polar opposite groups interact with each other the the audience gets a genuine understanding about the division between the culture. However there does seem to be one thing both sides can agree on: neither fully understands the comedy of Western Cultures, specifically the Daily Show on Comedy Central. And while the more contemporary citizens of Iran just seem to brush off the sarcasm, it’s this miscommunication between cultures that leads to Maziar Bahari’s detainment for 118 days.
Bahari’s detainment served as a great parallel to the country he was being held captive in. The information he was being fed was controlling, manipulative, and was used to influence his behavior. While in jail, the news from the outside world was obstructed by the walls of concrete, mortar, and steel. It was similar to the iron curtain the leaders of Iran were trying to keep over the country. But the strength of international communication was breaking boundaries never before seen. During Bahari’s time in isolation, news from the outside world eventually leaked into the prison. The news only illustrated a very small portion of what was really going on beyond the walls, but it helped renew his hope.
This seems to be the overarching message for the entire story. As technology continues to advance and becomes more easily attainable throughout the world, governments in developing countries are losing control of their ability to regulate all incoming and outgoing information. This new broadening communication pipeline allows these citizens to make decisions based on the unfiltered news from around the world. It also increases global awareness for countries that were kept in the shadows in the past. Much like Bahari’s experience in prison, the developing freedom of information in Iran gave citizens hope for change.
The final sequence of Rosewater clearly shows this ongoing fight between Iranian Officials and the generations of Iranian Citizens that are coming of age. And right before the credits role, it can be clearly interpreted that the Iranian Government is slowly losing the fight against this communication Hydra.
Rosewater is a fresh look into Iranian culture and does a great job illustrating the social issues in the Middle East without becoming a propaganda film. Be sure to check it out in theaters November 14th 2014.