If the whole comedy-fake news thing doesn't work out, Jon Stewart apparently has options.

"Rosewater," Stewart's first stab at writing and directing a film, is unusually good — a look at conflict and suppression in Iran that also manages to contain a sense of humanity and humor. Stewart's enthusiasm for his story and passion about injustice ring clear, but throughout what could have been a dreadfully somber film, he remembers to breathe.

The movie is adapted from a memoir by Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal, in a nicely tuned performance), an Iranian-born Newsweek correspondent based in Britain who returned to his homeland to cover the contentious election there in 2009, assuming he would get back to his pregnant wife in short time.

But Bahari soon sees the election — which is apparently fixed — spread discontent in Tehran and riots break out. His video reports on the violence don't endear him to the Iranian government, but neither does a tongue-in-cheek interview he gives to Stewart's correspondent, Jason Jones, for "The Daily Show."

Officials obviously don't get the joke. They arrest Bahari and cart him off to prison, where he sits blindfolded a good deal of the time, being interrogated, physically tortured and beaten by a man he thinks of as Rosewater (Kim Bodnia) because of the scent he uses.

The questions mostly involve Bahari's involvement in the West's media spy network, which doesn't exist, so he can't offer much. But as months go by, Bahari realizes he can manipulate the conversation.

Stewart clearly sees a driving ache for freedom beneath the entrenched religious and bureaucratic regimes in Iran, even as he's appalled by Bahari's treatment and inspired by his resilience. He intends to feed the flames of hope, and does.



Rated R for language including some crude references, and violent content

Running time: 103 minutes

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