Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rosewater [2014]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (G. Cheshire) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  

Rosewater [2014] (screenplay and directed by Jon Stewart [IMDb] based on the book "And then They Came For Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity and Survival" by Maziar Bahari [IMDb] and Aimee Molloy [IMDb]) tells the story of Iranian-born, London residing journalist Maziar Bahari [IMDb] (played in the film by Gael García Bernal). 

Bahari was back home in Tehran in 2009 to cover Iran's presidential election in which the state supported President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is widely believed to have won re-election only by resorting to fraud.  There were widespread street protests following the disputed election, Bahari covered some of those protests.  Eventually, the Iranian authorities came "knocking at the door" of his mother's apartment's where he was staying.  And he was taken away "for questioning" for any number of possible charges ranging from "pornography" to "espionage." 

In the authorities' "defense", he did apparently have an FHM magazine in his possession with a scantily clad and quite "acrobatically posed" Megan Fox on the cover ;-), and he did "publicly admit" on this film's director Jon Stewart's Daily Show segment that aired in the run-up to the election that he was in Iran AS A SPY working for any number of (take your pick ... CIA, Mossad, MI6) Western intelligence services ... ;-)

Bahari also came from a "family of troublemakers."  Both his father and sister had been "taken away" (his father by the Shah of Iran's government in the 1950s, his sister by Ayatollah Khomenei's Islamic Government in the late 1970s-80s) for similar "questioning" (and torture ...) for being "Communists."  Both were apparently "eventually released."  By family lore, they came out of their imprisonment (and torture...) perhaps physically damaged, but "with their integrity intact": THEY TOLD THEM NOTHING!

So midway through the film, there's Bahari, in a solitary confinement cell and, the ghost of his dad (played by Haluk Bilginer) comes visiting, telling him to "Tell them nothing (!)"  And Bahari has a pretty good question to ask his dad: "Dad, you and [sister] were jailed and tortured, one by the Shah the other by the Islamic Regime, because you were Communists.  Does it bother you that both regimes and even the one that's torturing me now learned how to do those things from the Gulags?  You were not all that different from what they are."  

Later, when his quite methodical and convinced of the fundamental rightness of his cause interrogator (played by Kim Bodnia), who Bahari comes to think of as "Rosewater" for the cologne that he seemed to use, keeps hammering away at Bahari trying to get him to admit that he was a spy, Bahari asks him: "What kind of 'a spy' would go ON A COMEDY SHOW and PROCLAIM TO THE WHOLE WORLD THAT HE'S A SPY?"  But "Rosewater" doesn't flinch: "You may think we're paranoid, but the Western Intelligence Services have infiltrated all kinds of news organizations.  And so a journalist, a spy (and even a comedian) could be the same thing."

And so Bahari, shaking his head (he was no spy), realizes that good ole, somewhat simplistic, and often brutal "Rosewater" may actually have a point, or AT LEAST "A POINT" THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO DISPROVE ...

What then to do, when faced with an interrogator (and at times torturer) who's convinced that you're "guilty" and your explanations / alibis just "prove" that you're "really good" at what he believes that you're guilty of?

That then is the rest of the film.  And there will certainly be people who will not like Bahari's solution. 

For myself, being a son of political refugees (who fled then Communist Czechoslovakia) as well, and now as a priest (a "functionary"...) in the Catholic Church KNOWING A THING OR TWO about subtle (and at times not particularly subtle coercion) to embrace one or another "Party line" (even if that "Party Line" is that of one or another Pastor... ;-) ... I've come to believe that Andy Warhol may provide a solution: If the "Powers that Be" insist that you put up a picture of "Chairman Mao" in your office ... then put up FOUR, one in each of the primary colors ... and be done with it.

It's not a perfect solution, but it does kinda fit Jesus' saying: "Render onto Caesar what is Caesar's and then to God what is God's" (Mark 12:17).  Telling "THEM" "NOTHING" ... ESPECIALLY IF THERE'S NOTHING TO TELL ... can be, IMHO, a waste of time.

In any case, an interesting and thought provoking film!

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