“He who knocks on the door at midnight has come to kill the light. We had better hide the light in the closet.” Ahmad Shamlu
On June 21, 2009, they came for Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal). Jon Stewarts impressive debut film details the Bahri’s imprisonment and psychological and physical torture which lasted for 118 days. It also covers the days preceding in which he bore witness to the Iranian 2009 elections involving President Ahmadinejad and the accusations of corruption and poll tampering following the election.
Bahari an Iranian by birth, has an English wife who was pregnant when he left London to travel to Tehran the capital of Iran, he worked for Newsweek as a reporter. Both his father and sister were imprisoned for their political beliefs, the father in the fifties under the Shah of Iran’s leadership, his sister Maryham under the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini in the eighties. In comparison Bahari appears at first, almost conservative in his political beliefs as he strives to stay relatively objective to the impending election wipeout of Ahmadinejad. Unfortunately a brief inconsequential interview with the Daily Show comedian Jason Jones triggers a bizarre series of events leading to his arrest and imprisonment without the right to defend himself.
Stewart cleverly uses shorthand to evoke his protagonists upbringing and influences. A tracking shot that has Bernal walking down a London Street to images of Dr Strangelove, Leonard Cohen, Khomeini and the archive history of personal and public protest is inspired. Stewart also captures the power of social media in one sequence that shows a word bubble of twitter posts splaying out to a global audience unconstrained by the restrictions of state based propaganda. These moments of pure bravura filmmaking demonstrate just how gifted Stewart is behind the camera
After a thrilling opening forty minutes, the prison sequences become more restrictive and claustrophobic. Stewart offers up dreamlike sequences between a dead father and son. “They barely touched you, others have suffered more.” As the psychological and physical interrogations continue, leading to a public denouncement of the Western capitalist media Bahari finally provides an extraordinary hilarious explanation for his visits abroad. Stewart flexes his comedic muscle and ramps up his disdain for an oppressive unimaginative regime and giving the film a satiric edge with a homage to Dr Strangelove. Bernal carries the film expertly shifts between the tonal changes of this excellent first feature from the soon to be ex Daily Show anchor.