4.5/5 MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Jon Stewart
prd Gigi Pritzker, Scott Rudin, Jon Stewart
with Gael Garcia Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Haluk Bilginer, Golshifteh Farahani, Dimitri Leonidas, Claire Foy, Nasser Faris, Miles Jupp, Andrew Gower, Numan Acar, Jason Jones
release UK Oct.14 lff, US 14.Nov.14
14/US 1h43
Tell me your secrets: Bodnia and Garcia Bernal

garcia bernal aghdashloo stewart

33rd Shadows Awards

london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Rosewater Based on London-based journalist Maziar Bahari's book Then They Came for Me, this film is a strikingly even-handed exploration of the situation in Iran, telling a harrowing story that never turns into a rant. The key here is a smart, knowing, mercifully witty screenplay, plus performances that dig far beneath the surface.

Leaving his pregnant wife (Foy) in London, Maziar (Garcia Bernal) heads to Tehran to cover the 2009 elections. After Ahmadinejad is declared winner, Maziar stays to cover the protests that break out across the city. Suddenly, he's arrested in his mother's (Aghdashloo) home, charged with espionage and taken to the notorious Evin Prison, where he's held 118 days while being subjected to mainly psychological torture by an interrogator (Bodnia) Maziar names "Rosewater" because of his scent. And it's memories of his late father and sister (Bilginer and Farahani) that help him maintain his sanity.

Since this is a true story, the film is packed with striking details that seem to come from nowhere, grounding the events in an earthy, complex humanity. Despite the injustice of the situation, there isn't a true villain here. Rosewater is accusing Bahari of being a spy out of the same paranoia and ignorance that caused the atrocities committed by American interrogators at Abu Ghraib and Bagram. Thankfully, Stewart never connects these events, although it's difficult to miss the subtle thematic echoes.

As a director, Stewart finds some wonderfully visual ways to fill in the story, such as having inner thoughts reflected on windows as Bahari walks through London echoing campaign posters on walls in Tehran), or the way his father and sister appear to him in prison. Even the flashbacks roll in organically. Maziar's love of cinema is evident everywhere. And one beautifully resonant sequence makes clever use of Leonard Cohen's Dance Me to the End of Love, a reference to music forbidden by Iran's religious regime, which also prohibits many Western films.

In other words, the film tells a specific story with layers of meaning and textures that offer telling comments on the much bigger picture. And in Garcia Bernal and Bodnia, the film has actors who offer glimpses of their souls along the way, drawing the audience right to the core of things before each potent emotional kick. By taking such an intelligent, sensitive approach, this essential film tells a story that resonates in the quest for freedom of speech and thought all over the world.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 11.Oct.14

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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall