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Arts & Life

Jon Stewart's 'Rosewater': The Serious Side Of Comedy


America's most famous satirist, who many say they actually get most of their news from, is now out with a film that plays it straight. Jon Stewart took a break from "The Daily Show" to write and direct "Rosewater," his first film. Based on real news, it stars actor Gael Garcia Bernal. MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan has this review.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: Jon Stewart has made such a career out of mocking the news that's a bit of a shock to find that "Rosewater" is so earnest and straightforward, you'd guess it was really directed by Dan Rather. "Rosewater" is adapted from journalist Maziar Bahari's memoir of the 118 days he spent as a political prisoner in Tehran's dreaded Evin prison. And it's every bit as serious as its subject matter would indicate. Bahari, played by Garcia Bernal, is covering the 2009 Iranian presidential elections for Newsweek. He's arrested as a spy, and a jailer he nicknames Rosewater comes to interrogate him.


GAEL GARCIA BERNAL: (As Maziar Bahari) Sir, you're making a big mistake. I am a journalist. That's it. Nothing more.

KIM BODNIA: (As Rosewater) Just a journalist.

BERNAL: (As Maziar Bahari) Yes.

TURAN: One of the things Rosewater, played by Danish actor Kim Bodnia, is interested in is an interview Bahari gave to "The Daily Show's" mock espionage correspondent, Jason Jones.


JASON JONES: (As himself) As a spy, I'm just trying to figure out why your country is so terrifying.

BERNAL: (As Maziar Bahari) The first thing to know about Iran is that it is not evil. Americans and Iranians have a lot of things in common more than they have differences.

JONES: (As himself) What do I have in common with you?

BODNIA: So can you tell me why just a journalist meet up with this American spy on the eve of the unrest?

BERNAL: (As Maziar Bahari) He's not a spy.

BODNIA: (As Rosewater) He's not a spy?

BERNAL: (As Maziar Bahari) No, it's a show.

BODNIA: (As Rosewater) It's a show?

BERNAL: (As Maziar Bahari) A comedy show. It's stupid. It's...

BODNIA: (As Rosewater) It's very stupid, yes.

BERNAL: (As Maziar Bahari) He's a comedian pretending to be a spy.

BODNIA: (As Rosewater) So can you tell me why American pretended to be a spy had chosen to interview you?

BERNAL: (As Maziar Bahari) And why would a real spy have a TV show?

TURAN: Though "Rosewater" is more sober and didactic than thrilling, it's at its best detailing the insidious mind games the captors play with Bahari. It shows how effectively this kind of pressure and isolation can be in changing even a sane person's perceptions of reality. "Rosewater's" happy ending is a relief as well as the truth, but the way it's portrayed on screen is too self-congratulatory for its own good. If you're a filmmaker, being on the side of the angels can be something of a double-edged sword.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.