2015 Reviews: Rose Water

By Henry Heffer

After the film ended, something just didn’t feel right to me. I flared my nostrils, scratched my head and then scratched my beard… and it came to me. The hero of Jon Stewart’s Iranian thriller, Maziar Bahari (played by Gael Garcia Bernal), must have the slowest growing beard in all of human history. For after 118 days of incarceration without a razor (we know he didn’t have a razor because he fantasises about cutting his wrists with a shard from his glasses) his beard only had the appearance of a single heavy night’s drinking.

If you think these things don’t matter, you don’t understand the obsession of filmmaking. Get the beard right and everything else will follow. This is incarceration filmmaking 101.

Even though Jon Stewart is not a filmmaker, he does make a valiant effort at taking it seriously. And then, presumably after a change of heart, smears this effort by going back to what he does best- making other people aware of the fact he knows what is going on outside of New York.

The film lacks intensity in many different areas and this is by no means only the fault of the comedic moments. The problem is, the film wants it both ways. It wants to be an intimate look at a criminal and unforgiving regime, but also as an affront to the legitimacy of people’s ideas about Iran through comedy. Was Bahari’s time inside the Evin prison torturous? Or was it liberating? Or maybe insightful? After three months, I still wasn’t sure.

The success of this film relied on two things. Firstly, did it accurately portray the events of Iran’s election in 2009. Secondly, was Bahari’s journey compelling in its retelling, enough to sit alongside the story of Iran’s on going revolution. The former was far more successful then the latter. But, unfortunately for the film, the latter contained the film’s climax; which was a more muted affair than the post show Skype Q and A; due to technical problems. (We were eventually treated to a conversation of sorts, heard through an iPhone held closely to a microphone. This was actually quite ingenious).

The first half of the film complimented Stewart’s attention to his life’s work- mixing entertainment and politics. There were some slick uses of animation (that disappeared all too quickly), the mixture of fictional footage and real footage was beautifully worked and Gael Garcia Bernal’s performance really started to string a story together. Then we entered prison and the ride was over.

I cannot recommend the film, because it did not hold my attention, make me laugh, cry or any of the things I wish from a film, which I’m sure appear in the book Then They Came For Me, which the film is based on. But, I do not think that this is because I’m a heartless human being; I believe it to be a failure of the filmmaking. In the end, maybe you just had to be there.

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