You are not alone

You are not alone

“Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in” – Leonard Cohen

Late ROSEWATER, our hero who has been wrongly imprisoned begins hearing a song in his head, and it contains this wonderful thought. The notion that there is someone out there who can hold us tightly and two-step us through the most trying times. This thought might be true for some, or might be tragically false for others. However, when one comes away from ROSEWATER, one believes it might be the key to survival when the chips are down: To think about those that hold us closest, and cling to those thoughts until the danger subsides.

In 2009 Iran faces a crucial presidential election. In the run-up to this important vote, journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) – an Iranian-born writer now working abroad – is sent back to his home country to cover the story for Newsweek. Upon his arrival, he meets a driver named Davood (Dimitri Leonidas), who seems to be more in-the-know that your average cabbie. When he discovers Bahari is a journalist, he takes him to meet the youth of the country: men and women who are educating themselves in the hopes of electing true leadership.

However, the vote doesn’t go as predicted, and mass numbers begin protesting in the streets.

These events lead to targeted arrests of suspected insurgents, which includes Bahari after he recorded a television spot. Bahari is pulled from his home without formal charge, and tossed into solitary confinement. Day in and day out, he is blindfolded, tortured and pressed for information by an unnamed inquisitor (Kim Bodnia) he knows only by the distinct smell of rosewater.

As days turn to weeks, and weeks turn into months, Bahari – the son of one political prisoner, and sibling of another – must dig deep within himself to find the strength to endure his internment.

Bernal and Bodnia
When films are made that tackle subjects like the one this film tackles, the subject itself becomes a hurdle. We know that a certain version of what we are about to see has happened. We also know that it continues to happen. News of it greets us with regularity on television and in the sites we browse. These ideas – torture and wrongful imprisonment – are ideas we would rather avoid if we’re being honest. The subject is a reminder that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, so the hurdle becomes getting audiences to willingly subject themselves to it for two hours.

So how to clear the hurdle? Well, if you’re writer & director Jon Stewart, you clear it with love and humour.

The nitty-gritty of Bahari’s imprisonment and torture is actually shown a great deal of restraint in comparison to many other films that have dropped on similar subjects this century. That restraint is no accident. It is emblematic of the love and support that Bahari received as the world kept vigil, and the love that he continues to embody as he spreads the word of what happened to him. Nothing is sugar-coated, mind you, but there seems to be more attention paid to what is happening in Bahari’s heart and mind than what is happening to his body. It’s a wonderful tactic that Stewart employs and it keeps us engaged. While depicting the pan and pressure would convey what Bahari endured, focusing on the strength of spirit conveys how he endured it.

Along with themes of love and hope, the film is also deeply interested in communication and information. The Green Movement of Iran in 2009 was incredible in the role that social media and technology played in it. Protestors and revolutionaries were able to communicate and get the truth out there in ways never before employed. Using platforms and toys most of us take for granted, Iranians were they able to call for action, co-ordinate their efforts, and expose the truth. What’s incredible about this is that its insurgents’ refusal to employ modern technology that has made them so hard to fight. So remembering the way the other side took to these tools and used them for positive change is particularly beautiful.

It’s especially beautiful since early-on Bahari is hesitant to get involved – he is specifically told “You have a weapon and you refuse to use it”, in relation to his camera. However what he remembers – what we’re all best to remember – is that it’s only through the spread of information and consumption of information that we can educate ourselves on issues. We can see what is happening in our world and call for action. We can spot the truth from the lies that we get fed by powers that want to do us harm.

While Stewart and Bahari have taken an unexpected path to tell this story, it’s a path that probably does it the most amount of good and makes best use of the weapons in their arsenal (Stewart’s humour especially). As much as the film is about Bahari’s imprisonment, it’s also about what got him there…and while none of us may want to be the subject of torture, we should all be willing to pick up our weapons in the fight for the truth.

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts and reactions on ROSEWATER.