22 Dec

Rosewater – written and directed by Jon Stewart. BioDrama. 103 minutes Color 2014.


The Story: An Iranian-born reporter from Newsweek is arrested as a spy in Tehran and fails to prove his innocence.


Beautifully and imaginatively filmed and directed, the film leaves one informed but blank.

Why is that?

It seems to do an honest job with the story, which is the hardest thing to do with a story which is based on a true story so recent we may demand adherence to its details, when actually adherence to its details may be the last thing we need. For the first thing we need is drama itself, not a record of someone’s misfortunes, however true.

Yet there is so much to recommend this film. How beautiful it is! How sterling are the flashbacks and fantasy sequences! How perverse are the twists! How masterful is the rendering and handling of everything! And the actors – the gorgeous Shohreh Aghdashloo plays Maziar Bahari’s mother, and we are on the level of Katina Paxinou and Anna Magnani. Dimitri Leonidas plays his madcap driver bro, and Kim Bodnia plays his chief tormentor. Delightful actors, all.

But the problem is twofold. First, since Bahari was not much tortured his torture was in his confinement itself. The room is large and white and bare. Somehow it needed to become his torturer and it does not.

Second, Bahari is played, and beautifully played, by Gael Garcia Bernal – what a dancer he proves to be! However, Bernal is sexy and handsome and young, and the problem with that is that those characteristics contain prerogatives which set any human who possesses them in a category whose freedom from confinement of them merely leads to the resumption of them. Nothing deeper is threatened, so nothing deeper need be imagined by those of us who watch. The part needs to be played by an ordinary bloke, which is what Bahari in real life appeared to be. A plain Joe. Not a movie star. Someone who has nothing extra, nothing but his life. A career as a photographer, yes. A wife and child on the way, yes. Someone whose resources might be shattered. Someone we might watch as ourselves. Someone run of the mill.

I felt nothing in particular because nothing in particular could happen in the character before me. To cast an actor like Bernal is a role like that is to cast too much foreground for a background. He gives a lovely performance. He’s lovely to see. I admire him. But admiration is delusion in those circumstances. Don’t give me filet mignon when porridge is supposed to be served. Or I just won’t care.

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