In 2009, during the Iranian election protests, Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari was imprisoned for allegedly working with Western spies to incite revolution. Evidence used against Bahari including a comedic segment (taken at face value by Iranian authorities) on American television satire 'The Daily Show', presented by Jon Stewart - who brings the story to the big screen as 'Rosewater', his debut directorial feature.
Bahari wrote a book on his ordeal, 'Then They Came For Me', which Stewart adapted for his screenplay. The film outlines Bahari's brief as a Newsweek journalist to use his connections to gain an indepth analysis to the 2009 Iranian presidential election, which pitted the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against (most notably) Mir-Hossein Mousavi. The disputed result sparked off several violent protests (wisely supplanted here with archive footage) and were subsequently covered by Bahari - leading to his brutal imprisonment and accusations of his being a spy.
The casting choice of Garcia Bernal is an interesting one - not only because 'Rosewater' may have been better served casting an actor of Middle Eastern origin, but also a recent film from his back catalogue, 2012's Oscar-nominated Chilean political drama 'No' shares many of the same sensibilities as his latest effort. Nonetheless, Garcia Bernal carries the film with aplomb, believably veering between deadpan wit and desperation.
Despite the heavy subject material, Stewart sticks to his A-game, crafting sharp, tongue-in-cheek exchanges between captive and his rosewater-laden interrogator from the outset. The humour does not detract from the gravity of Bahari and his family's ordeal, rather serving to show just how ludicrous the situation becomes. Certainly, the film ends on a suitable note - mentioning the plight of other "dissidents" unjustly persecuted.
'Rosewater' had its UK premiere at the 58th BFI London Film Festival. Find more info on remaining screenings and purchase tickets at bfi.org.uk/lff.