How Jon Stewart Found The Humor In Rosewater

Rosewater

Jon Stewart made his directorial debut with the film Rosewater, the true story of journalist Maziar Bahari’s captivity in Iran. When the film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, audiences were surprised how much humor the film presents. Bahari is unjustly held for months, but his captors’ misunderstanding of Bahari’s Daily Show appearance and collection of American television shows is rather absurd.

“I think you have seen it before and that’s in Kafka,” Stewart told a Telluride audience. “The comedy act is in some respects just Maziar’s capability of retaining his own humanity. One of the themes that I’m fascinated with in this is that in the darkest reaches of your life, humor is still there. It still lives. It reminds me of if you go down in the ocean into the deepest trench, it is pitch black and yet there’s life there. It’s absurd, grotesque life but it’s there. It’s a fish with, like, another fish growing out of its head. And you have to be able to, once your down there, go, ‘That’s the weirdest f***in’ thing I ever saw.’ The fulcrum of the movie, the turning point of the movie is him reclaiming life within that. And that’s in the smallest of gestures, that’s in humor, that’s in nuance. It’s not in a guy standing above you screaming. I think it’s important for people to realize that torture isn’t necessarily just what we see on television. It’s much more banal and much more common. We do it in this country. We keep people in solitary confinement for long periods of time.”

Likewise, the mood on the set was light, even though they were portraying a serious subject. “I wanted to make something very clear: this was a movie,” Stewart said. “We weren’t there to actually torture actors. This was a movie where professional people got together of their own free will to tell a story, and that story would be told between action and cut. But, beyond that time, I trusted in their preparation. I trusted in the attention I’ve utilized for the script in the conversations that we had, but these were not easy conditions to make a film in. I felt it was my responsibility to make sure that everyone that had been gracious enough to join me on it would feel welcomed and comfortable. I don’t manipulate, I don’t abuse. That’s not the style I like to go into it. I trust people’s professionalism.”

Stewart also used humor to explain why he filmed the Iranian story in English. “I don’t speak anything but English. So it would be tough to do the film not in English. It would’ve been very difficult to direct. To be perfectly frank, there are incredible Iranian filmmakers and they could’ve told this story with Maziar with an authenticity that I can never achieve. But to pretend that I could, I thought, would carry a pretension that I didn’t want the film to have. The kind of ethos behind it was a quiet inauthenticity and that was because I didn’t want the story to be perceived as well as an Iranian problem, and a problem of one regime in one part of the world with one group. Expression is threatened everywhere in the West, in the East, in many different countries.”

Gael Garcia Bernal stars as Bahari, but Stewart hired Iranian actresses Shohreh Aghdashloo and Golshifteh Farahani to make sure Iran was authentically represented in Rosewater. “We got Shohreh and we got Golshifteh who’s this incredible actress, and I felt like that gave me the heart and vertebrae and backbone of Iran, of Persia. It allowed me the flexibility to then broaden the story out, to bring it into a more universal place so that it couldn’t be dismissed as, ‘Well, sure, those guys did it.’ Because every regime has their pressure points, has their way of bringing censure and trying to create infrastructure that is not transparent. I wanted to make sure the story, because what’s so beautiful about Maziar’s story is the universality.”

Rosewater opens November 7.

Fred Topel's Latest Blog Entries:

Guillermo del Toro has several upcoming movies in the works, including Crimson Peak, Pacific Rim 2 and a small independent movie he plans to make in between....
Zoe Saldana now has three franchises to her name: Avatar, Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy. Her passion project has been a biography of musician Nina...
The Twisted Twins, writer/directors Jen and Sylvia Soska, have had a whirlwind career since their second film, American Mary, swept horror film festivals. They...
After their second film, Big Bad Wolves, was named the best movie of 2013 by Quentin Tarantino, Israeli directors Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales planned...
Spring was a hit at Fantastic Fest, winning an acting award for Lou Taylor Pucci. After festival screenings, Drafthouse Films announced it would distribute the...

More Rosewater News

Comments