I’ve been dying to see this film ever since I heard Jon Stewart was both writing and directing it. It seems to be part of a general movement of comedians into straight drama, and a lot of them are doing a good job of it. Stewart deals with this heavy subject – of the kidnapping and torture of a journalist in Iran, with a lot of skill, tact and occasional appropriate dashes of humour. It stars Gael Barcia Bernal with Kim Bodnia from the Bridge as his torturer, who he never sees but who smelt of Rosewater.
The film repeatedly makes it clear that what Bahari (Bernal) is going through is not as bad as what many suffer, and ultimately, his media savvy wife in London and many others such as Stewart himself manage to get a media campaign to have him successfully released. We learn a lot about Bihari’s life – of his sister and father being murdered for their activism, so he is rather annoyed to be arrested for just being an expat journalist. All well and good, but ….
On the way out of the cinema, a lot of people were objecting to the constant use of English – this was really disorienting to those of us used to art house, and a measure of the American laziness with translations. It was hard to see the lines that were being crossed when different languages were in use. It made it all feel like Iran was just an American outpost.
Also, I have problems with the lack of distress shown by Bihari. anyone who has read The Royal Game by Stefan Zweig is aware of the torture that is solitary confinement. To anyone with an active mind, doing nothing does terrible things, and there was no sign of this in the film.
That said, it is a very good film, there are some moments of sheer brilliance, such as Bernal dancing to Leonard Cohen in his cell with his torturer bemused at what on earth was happening. The problems I have with the film probably mean it will get a wider audience, especially in the states where subtitling works like a lead balloon. Well done, Jon and I look forward to what he comes up with next.