ROSEWATER

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3.5 stars
He who knocks on the door at night, has come to kill the night.
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So opens this compelling docudrama from satirical funny man Jon Stewart, best known as anchor of The Daily Show (he left the programme last month after 16 years helming this staple for Comedy Central), Yet Rosewater is as far from comedy or satire as you can get as Stewart shares the plight of Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari (convincingly played by Gael García Bernal – Babel) who had been arrested by his government on charges he was a spy.

There's nothing about Rosewater that suggests Stewart, a novice director and screen-writer, is not in complete control of his material. That in itself is quite an achievement. What's more, he brings something fresh to the telling of a story that runs a familiar line from entrapment and incarceration to torture and a bid for freedom. Throughout it is stylishly and confidently shot with echoes of Winterbottom's A Mighty Heart, although this is certainly not as dramatic in tone or content.

Bahari, an educated, global journalist, was in the wrong place at the wrong time. As with Al Jazeera's Peter Greste, it was clear that the government in Tehran was sending a signal. They built a case around the idea that reading Empire film magazine (pornography) and watching The Sopranos (pornography) was proof of immorality, and Bahari's involvement in The Daily Show (he appeared in a skit – proof that he was in contact with the US government and therefore a spy) sealed the deal. He spent 118 days being brutally interrogated in solitary confinement, recognising his jailer by the smell of rosewater.

Stewart's choice to keep this telling relatively small pays big dividends. He keeps the action tight, rarely expanding it from Bahari's domestic concerns and the conflict of his interrogation. When he does, it is to illuminate the hypocrisy of the Iranian government as it wages a cold war on its own people, thus giving more weight to the nonsense of charges brought to Bahari. Casting the affable Bernal is the film's greatest strength, one that is no slouch in the visual department either. If not riveting exactly, the result is an engaging, provocative and frequently disturbing story that deserves a look. More so given local resonance with Greste and the Egyptian government's recent decision to release their captive.

// COLIN FRASER

Previewed at Paramount Theatre, Sydney, on 6 February 2015

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STARRING
Gael García Bernal
Kim Bodina
Dimitri Leonidas
Haluk Bilginer

DIRECTOR
Jon Stewart


SCREENWRITER
Jon Stewart

COUNTRY
USA

CLASSIFICATION
M

RUNTIME
103 minutes

AUSTRALIAN
RELEASE DATE
February 19, 2015
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Rosewater (2014) on IMDb
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