Nov 15, 2014




A promising debut for Jon Stewart.


Grade: B+

Director: Jon Stewart (TV--The Daily Show)

Screenplay: Stewart

Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries)



by John DeSando

Nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy than to imprison a person or keep him in prison because he is unpopular. This is really the test of civilization.” Winston Churchill

Miziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal), a journalist featured in the docudrama Rosewater, was incarcerated in a Tehran jail for seeking the truth about the 2009 Iran election in which President Ahmadinejad seemed decisively to win. Based on Bahari’s memoir Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival, the eminently interesting Rosewater is a film that tries not to preach the evil of the empire. Rather it lets the biography instruct us about the ignorance of Iranian operatives, who follow the Ayatollah without question.

Because Bahari, writing for Newsweek, returns to interview Hosein Mousavi, the prime challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he is eventually imprisoned for months and tortured mentally much more than physically.  The strength of Jon Stewart’s directing and writing debut for film is the fluid, unhurried pace without pushing a liberal agenda. Unlike in the films of Michael Moore, Stewart reaches balance and integrity while his devotion to freedom is palpable.

Although Bahari may have been politically ill advised to consort with the young revolutionaries supporting Mousavi, leading to his arrest, he remains aloof from the rabid partisanship while subtly enjoying the energy and ideals.  At a price.

Besides showing the virtue of patience and intelligence (watch him dance by himself in his cell to Leonard Cohen and tell massage stories to torment his captor), Stewart introduces the power of social media to push the free-the-prisoner campaign. It’s 5 years ago, when Face book was a veritable infant compared with its influence today. And Hillary Clinton helped, too. But his release has as much to do with his wit as it does the family and political forces marshaled to help his cause.

The more practical reason for seeing this docudrama is to put into perspective the dynamic forces contending in Iran. Although the factions vying for power are numerous, Stewart keeps his eye on the folly of our hero’s oppressors and the need sometimes for revolt.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at