"Rosewater" a Cautionary Tale for Our Time
By Skip Sheffield
The first time I met Gael Garcia Bernal I thought this kid is going places.
That was 13 years ago, when Bernal co-starred with Diego Luna in the sexy Mexican comedy “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” Bernal went on to star in such important movies as “Motorcycle Diaries,” “The Science of Sleep” and “Babel.”
Now Bernal has the role of his 35-year-old life as Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari in “Rosewater,” a truth-based movie written and directed by Jon Stewart. If Mexican-born Bernal is not already the biggest young Latin-American star, he will be after American audiences see this gripping film.
Maziar Bahari was born and raised in Tehran, but he was a Canadian citizen based in London when Newsweek magazine hired him to cover the hotly-contested 2009 presidential election. The incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was a hard-line militant Islamic. His challenger, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, was a more liberal, democratic candidate.
Bahari left his pregnant wife (Claire Foy) behind in London and took up residence in his old bedroom at his mother’s (Shoreh Aghdashloo) house.
In a comical scene, Bahari engages Davood (Dimitri Leonidas), whom he first sees driving a taxi, as his driver. When Davood shows up on his tiny motorcycle, Bahari had no choice but to hop on back. It also was a good vantage point for Bahari to wield his video camera.
One of the first places Davood showed Bahari was a secret rooftop forest of forbidden satellite dishes that enabled young students and dissidents to keep in touch with what was going on in the free world.
When the incumbent president was re-elected in a landslide, students and dissidents took to the streets in a spontaneous demonstration. With his camera running, Bahari caught Islamic police firing on the unarmed students. The volatile video was smuggled out of the country and Bahari filed his story for Newsweek. Not long after that the police came knocking at dawn on June 21, 2009. They said “Get dressed,” put Bahari in handcuffs and led him away to the notorious Evin Prison.
The balance of the film is largely the daily interrogation of Bahari, who was blindfolded much of the time. While Bahari was roughed up from time to time, the real torture was the psychological warfare carried out good cop (Nassir Faris) bad cop (Haluk Bilginer) style. It is no wonder Bahari broke down after implicit threats to his mother, wife and unborn daughter. Yet even under the greatest duress Bahari show a sense of humor by concocting ever more ridiculous conspiracy stories until he buckled and "confessed" in a videotaped statement.
The ordeal went on for 118 days, but it is never really over as long as a totalitarian government tramples the rights of people. As I write this, journalist Jason Rezalan has been languishing in the same Evin Prison for more than 100 without being charged with any specific crime.
Jon Stewart has done a service to freedom-lovers everywhere by bringing this drama to light and to Gael Garcia Bernal in particular for giving him such a powerful vehicle to demonstrate his talent.