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Yes, No, Maybe So: Jon Stewart's Rosewater

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.

Maybe So

• 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?

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Reader Comments (10)

Loved this analysis. The accent thing is totally egregious.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Nick -- agree. I have never understood filmmmakers lack of disrespect for casting appropriately for various nationalities. If you're going to cast an actor that isn't that nationality, make sure they can do the voice. This makes me crazy with Scandinavian and Russian languages because I've heard them enough to spot a total phony, and yet there are so many phonies. Why not just cast the right actor? There are actors of every nationality in both LA and NYC so there's really no excuse.

That said -i am not familiar enough with Persian for this to bother me in this film and mostly I'm looking at it for a chance to see Gael Garcia Bernal, who is nearly always worth the money.

August 31, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Maziar Bahari is Iranian-Canadian, just to clear that up for those who are interested in his life and story.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

MDA- You're right. Had a brain freeze for a moment. Corrected now.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

"Gael Garcia Bernal is reason enough to watch any film."

This statement made me realize that the only Gael Garcia Bernal film I can remember seeing is "A Lot Like Heaven" which was not worth anyone's time, so I probably need to see him in better things to get the hype.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKacey

I agree with every single maybe point. And the casting of Gael Garcia Bernal as an Iranian is something Stewart would have made fun of on his show, if it wasn't his own film.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Amir

Yes: Everything Amir lists, I second.

No: The accent thing bothered the hell out of me. Not because I get the difference between an Iranian and any other Middle-Eastern accent, but why are they speaking English with a Mid-East accent when they are supposedly speaking in an Iranian dialect? Either use sub-titles or be real about it. It makes no sense in its current form. Starbucks product placement is far too prominent unless it has some dramatic function which the trailer fails to bring to light. I love Bernal, but Bernal in lovable puppy dog mode in the opening scene just reeks of "dead meat (or close to it" for his character very quickly. The "we are a serious film and we will rise to sit at the right hand of God on the strength of this film" scoring.

Maybe so: I don't have a lot of Maybe So. I need to see some reviews from people I respect to decide if this is theater or home viewing. But I will see it......so does that make me a yes?

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

I hadn't seen the poster before now, and I LOVE it!

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Amir, This is not a trailer comment but your reference to hostile first impressions reminded me of something. I know my story is from an earlier era.
My entry into Iran in 1986 was the land border from Pakistan. The first town had a round-about and in the centre was a mounted missile with the words "War War until victory" painted on it. It was in English so intended for newly arrived travellers not the local people. In those days, the overland route from Asia to Europe was still done by tour companies so tourists were expected to pass and see that as a first impression.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVaus

Vaus- That story doesn't surprise me. However, there are two inportant facts:
1. The deserts near the Pakistan border are sparsely populated, crime-heavy and very dangerous. Not at all comparable to urban areas, Tehran especially (which is where this story takes place).
2. 1986 was the second last year of the Iran-Iraq war. Mantra like "war until victory" were the general mood of the country at the time. The war ended in 88 and those sentiments disappeared with it.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

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