‘Rosewater,’ directed by Jon Stewart, shares harrowing tale

There are moments of levity in “Rosewater,” directed by late-night host Jon Stewart, but it’s hardly a comedy.

The film, in theaters now, is based on the best-selling memoir “Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival,” by journalist Maziar Bahari. He was detained for four months in 2009 in his native Iran, while on assignment for Newsweek. He was beaten and interrogated repeatedly during his confinement, having been accused falsely of crimes against the state, and released only after an international campaign demanding his freedom.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bahari said his ordeal left him determined to share his story.

“I want to tell the world what is going on in Iran,” he said. “There are several Irans right now. There is an Iran that I am representing. There is an Iran of really cultivated, open people. At the same time, we have a government, a supreme leader, and they have a power base. There is this clash. There is this constant struggle going on.”

Actor Gael García Bernal plays Bahari in the movie, which depicts both fun-loving, entrepreneurial young Iranians and the repressive regime still officially in charge.

“It’s surreal for anyone to have their lives portrayed by someone else. You’re usually dead and you’re usually someone of Mahatma Gandhi’s stature,” Bahari mused.

So, how did a comic late-night guy team up with a political prisoner? While Bahari was in Iran reporting on the highly contentious and disputed presidential election, he conducted a lighthearted interview with Stewart’s “The Daily Show.”

“When they approached me, I thought they meant Rod Stewart,” he said. “I thought it was going to be a musical show.”

He’s happy with how the movie, which also marks Stewart’s screenwriting debut, turned out.

“Jon is a very serious thinking person,” he said. “Of course, I’ve been a ‘Daily Show’ fan since the year 2000 and always admired his intelligence and humor. When I met him and we became friends, I really trusted him and I think he trusted me. The film is what it is now due to our trust and collaboration.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.