Amir here, anxiously over-analyzing the trailer for Jon Stewart’s directorial debut. Rosewater tells the story of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist who was arrested following the Green Revolution riots, when Iranians protested against the controversial presidential elections of 2009. At the time, Daily Show host Jon Stewart followed the story in great detail. That publicity was instrumental in Bahari’s eventual release and Stewart's interest in the events has evidently not subsided since. Rosewater stars TFE favorite Gael García Bernal as Bahari.
The trailer and our usual YNMS treatment after the jump...
• Jon Stewart is a smart man with a very sharp eye for international politics. It is no coincidence that he persistently followed Maziar Bahari’s story as the events unfolded. He has no experience in cinema, but this is just the type of story that’s perfect for his film debut.
• Gael Garcia Bernal is reason enough to watch any film.
• Some of the visual ideas on display here, particularly in the interrogation scenes, seem a little bit boldfaced, but at least they demonstrate a level of cinematic understanding that is promising to see from a first time director.
• As an Iranian, I am always looking forward to stories about my homeland. Anticipation always comes with a certain level of dread, which is only amplified for politically themed filmed, but excitement usually outweighs any negative feelings.
• Los Angeles has an Iranian population big enough to be among Iran’s ten biggest cities. Close to a million Iranians live right next to Hollywood, so much so that Iranians refer to the city as Tehrangeles. How hard is it to cast actors as Iranians who can at the very least pronounce Iranian names correctly? Iranians do not speak Arabic and their English accent is completely different. Yet, every single person here is either speaking with an Arabic accent or attempting a vague, generic “Middle Eastern” accent. Even a film as monumentally offensive and insensitive as Argo got this right. There something to be said for the casting of a global star in the lead role but for the smaller parts, it's inexcusable. This basic level of ineptitude suggests we won’t see a film about Iranians, but one about Iranians as they exist in the American psyche, with carelessly written characters. Nothing new there then.
• Someone travels to Iran in an American film and the first thing they see is a “Death to America” graffiti with the American flag pasted on a gun. Of coooourse! Of course that's the first thing they see. Is there anything less nuanced than this introductory image? I have never encountered a non-Iranian person whose first impression upon travelling to Tehran was one of a people who were in any way hostile to them. This story is not about America and its relationship with Iran anyway, so why open the trailer with such a reductive, bleak image?
• Two of Iran’s greatest actresses star in this film: the Oscar-nominated Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog) and Golshifteh Farahani (About Elly, Body of Lies). They each appear for a single moment in the trailer, one just looking worried and the other dancing in an image super-imposed on a Starbucks window. If that tells us anything about their screen time, it will be a gross waste of talent.
• This story is about Iranians standing up for themselves against their own government. It is fortunately inherently more difficult to create an “US vs. foreigners” mentality in this story than in films like Argo and Not Without My Daughter. Could this finally be the American film that shows Iran for the diverse, multi-faceted country that it is? Could it depict the complexities of a modernizing society by avoiding clichés and simplified politics? Could the Iranians be characters and not caricatures?
At heart, I’m a maybe so about this one. In reality, I’ll be too anxious to do anything but show up first in line on opening day.
How about you?