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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Jul. 15, 2009 8 years ago

Film review: 'The Stoning of Soraya M.'


As of late, the world has witnessed the repression that exists in Iran. But nothing will assault your sense of propriety with such utter disdain as does the new film, "The Stoning of Soraya M."

Based on a true story, the film begins as French journalist Freidoune Sahebjam's (ironically portrayed by Jim Caviezel whose character endured endless onscreen torture as Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ") car breaks down near a small Iranian village. While waiting for repairs, a strange woman named Zahra (Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo, "The House of Sand and Fog," in another remarkable performance) begs him to tape record her account of a terrible event that occurred on the previous day. That of her niece, Soraya (Mozhan Marnò), who was stoned to death for a crime she did not commit.

It seems as though Soraya's despicable husband had fallen in love with a 14-year-old and needed to get rid of his wife so he could marry her. To do so, he concocted an evil plot, blackmailing anyone that stood in his way. When all was said and done, he convinced a corrupt mullah to bring charges of adultery against Soraya and the unthinkable ensued.

Amazingly, this all takes place in the 1980s soon after the shah was ousted (had she been convicted during his reign she would have only had to engage in community service). According to Islamic law, adultery is punished by stoning. And as stated in Iran's constitution, "the life of a female is worth half that of a male." Women don't stand a chance of defending themselves, being denied the most basic of human rights. That is why this film must be seen, this story told, no matter how difficult it is to watch.

The director, Cyrus Nowrasteh, chooses not to spare his audience from the brutality of Soraya's severe punishment. Before the stoning actually takes place, we see the villagers gathering stones, clacking them together while marching through the streets, as though anticipating a great party. And guess who gets to cast the first stone? Why it's Soraya's own father, followed by her grinning husband and then her two young sons. Soon the entire village population goes into a mass frenzy amidst a constant shower of stones. And the camera refuses to shy away from the barbarity.

Mob rule is a messy thing to grasp. It's as though medieval madness has crept into modern times. What's really frightening is that it's prevalent throughout the world, not just the Middle East. And this is exactly what Zahra, Sahebjam and Nowrasteh are trying to put out there. They want the world to know Soraya's story so that she and so many others like her have not died in vain.

The acting, camera work and sound track are magnificent in "The Stoning of Soraya M." But it's the powerful message that prevails in this disturbing film. As Zahra so astutely observes at the film's conclusion, "What God would condone this behavior?"  


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