US satirist Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, Rosewater, is based on the true story of a western journalist imprisoned in Iran — and raises real questions about the nature of torture.
At least, that is the opinion of Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, who plays Canadian-Iranian reporter Maziar Bahari in the first movie by Daily Show host Stewart, released in the US on Friday last week.
Bahari was held in solitary confinement for 118 days after being arrested in Tehran while covering elections there in 2009, accused by then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of being a Western spy.
“Maziar and I became friends very rapidly,” the actor told AFP, recounting how he prepared for the role using Behari’s memoir from 2011, Then They Came For Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity and Survival.
“The systematic and globally accepted practice of solitary confinement amounts to torture,” he added. “It’s something that happens in my own country and in many others in the world ... that’s part of the human crisis which we are living through.”
Even worse, this happens “in the most sophisticated democracies, where human rights are defended,” he said.
“When the United States puts you in a detention center because you are ‘illegally’ in the country, it’s the same thing. They isolate you to the point that they force you to leave voluntarily,” Garcia Bernal said. “It’s a form of torture.”
Bahari’s story made headlines around the world, with then-US secretary of state Hillary Clinton among those who demanded his release.
However, Stewart was inspired to make the film after meeting Bahari personally and hearing his story firsthand.
Garcia Bernal joined a mostly Iranian cast to portray a journalist who, at the time of his imprisonment in Iran, lived in London with his wife and worked for the US magazine Newsweek.
It was the second time the Mexican actor had played a real person, though he says the experience cannot be compared with playing Che Guevara in 2004’s The Motorcycle Diaries by director Walter Salles.
“Che is a mythical figure; everyone has an opinion about him. With Maziar, few people know him, and we were portraying his own portrayal” of the events recounted in the film, he said.
The main difference, he said, was that he faced less pressure playing a Western journalist than the iconic Argentine revolutionary.
The 35-year-old actor added that, as he grows older, he realizes that box office success and awards are not everything. The human side of a role is more important, he said.
“Even more than a story, I need to become friends with the people I’m working with,” he said. “I need to have the challenge of a fraternal experience on a film to believe that it’s worth doing.”
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