“Rosewater” is the name of an Iranian intelligence “specialist” (Danish “The Bridge” star Kim Bodnia) as opposed to “torturer,” who interrogates the blindfolded Bahari (who only saw his jailer twice), well-played by Mexican actor-producer-director Garcia Bernal. Stewart was inspired to turn this story into a movie because Bahari’s appearance on his show partly contributed to his arrest.
There was never any question of including that incident in the movie. In our interview, Stewart and Garcia Bernal admit that they had to embrace a kind of purposeful inauthenticity with a sprawling international cast.
Stewart hoped that the actresses playing Bahari’s wife and mother (Golshifteh Farahani and Shohreh Aghdashloo, respectively) would help to provide a backbone for Garcia Bernal. Everyone leaned on Bahari to make sure they weren’t pulling people out of the movie. (Some of Baharii’s actual news footage is in the film.) If it was OK with him, they were reassured. And first-timer Stewart also leaned on experienced filmmaker Garcia Bernal for advice on how to work with actors.
Stewart organized his screenplay adapted from Bahari’s book in three sections: one showing the “vibrancy of the street,” he says, the other “the solitary pain and discomfort of the prison,” and finally the “light of the reclamation.” They’re trying to tell a universal story, as “journalists get persecuted all over the world,” says Garcia Bernal.
Finally, the movie is an entertaining and informative portrayal of a riveting story that I was glad to experience.
The film needed festival exposure to push it into the marketplace, but should not be burdened with awards expectations. For my money Garcia Bernal carries “Rosewater” with expert precision and impish humor–a quality that Stewart was looking for. “Bahari was mischievous in the face of incredible horror,” he says, as in scenes when he spins sexual fantasies for his jailer. The real Bahari (see video below) is warm and charming–and even met with his torturers after he was released. They wanted him to not write about his imprisonment. First they wanted him to confess to being a spy, and then after admitting that he wasn’t one, they signed him up!
Will Stewart direct some more? Sure– if Maziar gets arrested again.
See interview, Telluride Q & A and panel videos below. “Rosewater” hits theaters November 14.