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REVIEW: Jon Stewart’s “Rosewater” a powerful experience

“Rosewater,” Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, shows that the TV host has what it takes to be a good director. The movie, based on the best-selling memoir “Then They Came for Me: A ­Family’s Story of Love, Captivity and Survival,” tells the story of a Newsweek journalist named Maziar Bahari (Gael García Bernal) in Iran for the 2009 elections.

He is arrested when authorities link him to demonstration videos uploaded of the presidential election and also come to believe that he is a spy (which is not the case).

They come to this mistaken conclusion because they see footage of him interviewing a fake spy from the comedy show “The Daily Show.” His jailers decide to place him in solitary confinement for four months hoping to get a confession out of him.  (Such drastic measures would seem extreme to the average American.)

The title of the movie has to do with when Bahari was being interrogated, he usually was blindfolded, and could identify his interrogator because the man always smelled of rosewater.

Even though he is a Mexican actor, Bernal is believable playing an Iranian and delivers a strong performance. The way the movie is shot gives the production a realistic feel to it.  The film makes us really feel the pain that Bahari is going through and how such deprivation can mess with one’s mind.  

The movie bears resemblance to the survival film “127 Hours,” where James Franco played hiker Aron Ralston, who gets his arm caught in a boulder, while hiking in Utah.  Both movies feature characters who find themselves in these unimaginable situations and struggle mightily to find a way out.  

As well-made as the movie was, it did fall short in some areas. The opening of the movie was disorienting as the audience does not know what is going on.  The same scene repeats itself later on. Also, when Bahari is arrested at his mom’s house, it didn’t seem plausible that the authorities would have known that it was he who posted the videos of the demonstration, which were uploaded anonymously. I also found the pacing of the prison scenes, which take up more than fifty percent of the movie, to be too slow. 

We come away from this movie seeing how strict Iran is with anyone who is not on their side and will do anything in their power to silence non-supporters. Freedom of the press is a right that is not so easily granted to Iranians as it is to those in other countries.   A powerful experience, this is certainly a movie that deserves to be seen.

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