As God is my witness, I thought that Jon Stewart knew that Aryan had more than one definition. He didn’t, but it made for a lively way to start my conversation with both him and Maziar Bahari on October 22, 2014. As Bahari pointed out, Iranians are the original Aryans, and he went on to give us a brief history lesson before we moved on the business at hand, which was Stewart’s directorial debut, ROSEWATER, based on Bahari’s memoir originally entitled “Then They Came For Me.” The Iranian-born Canadian was falsely imprisoned for being a spy by the Iranians while he was covering the controversial 2009 Iranian presidential election, and it was his mordant wit as well as his inner strength that helped him survive the ordeal. The film Stewart made is a perfect reflection of that, finding the absurdity in the surreality of the situation, as well as finding the humanity of everyone involved. And this is was sets this film apart from others of its kind. As Bahari explained a monster of the enemy is self-defeating, because you can’t defeat a monster. As we went on to discuss the shout-out to Kubrick’s DR. STRANGELOVE, the problem of using Orwell’s 1984 as a handbook, and Stewart’s approach to the story that respects that absurdity while not detracting from the issues of free speech and self-censorship, the pair exhibited their irrepressible, and very smart, sense of humor, that, in Stewart’s case, can be delightfully self-deprecating. And we find out why Stewart cast non-Iranians Gael Garcia Bernal, as Bahari, and Kim Bodnia, who plays Bahari’s interrogator.
In ROSEWATER, Bahari copes with his ordeal by engaging in imaginary dialogues with his deceased father and sister, who had themselvesbeen imprisoned by the Iranian authorities for having the wrong politics. In the course of these conversations, he discovers the key to keeping his sanity, as well as his dignity, by using his captors’ misinformation about him and the west against them. The film becomes an incisive look at the way cultures misunderstand each other to each other’s detriment, as well as a consideration of the price people are willing to pay for freedom of expression. The film’s co-stars are Shoreh Agdashloo, Golshifteh Farahani, Claire Foy, and Haluk Bilginer. Stewart directed from a script he wrote based on Bahari’s memoir originally entitled “Then They Came For Me” and this is his directorial debut.