Jon Stewart’s reputation pegs him as a funnyman first and foremost; he might be a keen hand at busting punditry, parsing out flimflam in media reporting, and skewering political nonsense from all sides of the US government, but he’s a comedian before he’s a commentator. But come November, his fans (and detractors) will get to see a whole new side of him – that of the serious storyteller – as his directorial debut makes its way to theaters.
That would be Rosewater, Stewart’s dramatized adaptation of London-based, Iranian-born journalist (and Canadian citizen) Maziar Bahari’s 2011 memoir, “Then They Came For Me”. Most may recall that Stewart took a break from his routine duties on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show back in 2013 for the film’s production, and with the arrival of its first trailer (posted above), we’re finally getting a glimpse at the fruits of his labors.
Seems like his sabbatical has paid off. Based on the clip, Rosewater holds great promise as a humanitarian morality tale. If it doesn’t fully live up to that potential, well, Rosewater fits so well within Stewart’s wheelhouse as a politically minded human being that the movie should at least have plenty to say about its subject matter; judging by what we can see of the film’s craft, he’s put together something that’s accomplished on technical merits and not simply its social consciousness.
For those unfamiliar with Mr. Bahari’s story, it begins with the protests that erupted in the wake of Iran’s 2009 presidential election, in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a dubious victory over opposition candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. As these events (referred to as the Green Revolution or the Green Wave) unfolded, Bahari (portrayed in the film by Mexican actor Gael García Bernal) covered them for Newsweek until his arrest on June 21st and subsequent five month imprisonment.
His was a harrowing ordeal; he was tortured, and frequently blindfolded during these violent sessions. (The film’s title derives from his sensory deprivation – Bahari has noted that one of his interrogators smelled of rosewater.) He eventually gave a confession (under duress) stating that all Western journalists worked as spies and that his assignment was to foment unrest.
Stewart has clearly honed in on the grimmer elements of Bahari’s trial, and if the Daily Show host has any intention here, it’s to take to task the people responsible for the atrocities committed against Bahari. The film looks clean, crisply made, and impassioned as one might expect from someone like Stewart; it’s also hopeful, or at least it has the appearance of optimism through its depiction of bleaker realities.
We’ll see how well Stewart strikes balance between these two come the fall.
Rosewater opens in US theaters on November 7th, 2014.