Gerald Wright's Movie Coverage
THE STONING OF SORAYA M.
Directed by: Cyrus Nowrasteh
Running time: 114 minutes
Release date: June 26, 2009
Genre: Drama, Art/Foreign and Adaptation
Distributor: Roadside Attractions/MPower Pictures
MPAA Rating: R
In the Middle East nation of Iran, discontent has simmered for decades. In this thought provoking film on social and relationship ills, screenwriters Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh and her husband Cyrus Norwrasteh adapted a true story based on the book of the same title by Freidoune Sahebjam. The mistreatment of women is not an incidental problem in the Muslim world, a side issue that can be dealt with once the more important political problems are out of the way. It is a primary problem where as enslavement of Islamic women are the subject of most fanatical interpretations of Islam.
Set in the late 1980's, the ugliness of fundamentalist Islamic mob justice in the Ayatollah Khomeini era Iran takes another turn. French journalist Freidoune Sahebjam (Jim Caviezel) makes a pit and repair stop in a small village when a middle-age woman named Zahra, portrayed by Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo, approaches him with a story of the stoning of her niece, Soraya (Mozhan Marno). This is an unflinching and powerful movie told by Zahra exposing mob rule under Islamic uncivil law.
Soraya, a mother of two boys and two girls, falls victim to a fabricated charge of adultery, a crime against her and Islam with the penalty of death by public stoning. The charge is set up by her womanizing husband Ali (Navid Negalaban) who convinces a fake mullah/holy man (Ali Pourtash), a spineless mayor Ebrahim (David Diaan) and a manipulated local mechanic Hashem (Parviz Sayyad). Ali wanted a divorce, however Soraya refused to give it to him. He schemed to destroy her respectability, discredit her under the laws of the Muslim religion and in the eyes of the town's people. The only person to give aid to Soraya was her aunt Zahra. This is a story of how Zahra smuggles the facts of the stoning of Soraya by her so-called friends, neighbors, sons and evil husband out of this secluded town to the outside world.
The lead character Zahra is brilliantly played by Shohreh Aghdashloo who has performed in film, television and theater in compelling parts. Her personal life is just as fascinating, and I was fortunate enough at a recent interview to ask her questions about her life and this riveting film (that does not spare graphic scenes.) She remarked, "As a native of Iran in the late 1970's when the revolution was in its early stages and strict religious rule was reintroduced...... I thought about leaving for three months before I finally did. When the airports were closed, I decided that I would leave...I knew that I had to go then or never."
When I questioned her about knowing or seeing a stoning, Shohreh replied, "Stoning never happen in the monarchy in Iran. I wasn't very much familiar with the stoning until the late 1980's when a friend of mine gave me a tape that was smuggled out of Iran and copied with the help of American-Iranians in the film industry and it was a real one, a real stoning.......It took an hour and a half and I can tell you, still after years....I feel bitter and I feel horrible. After watching it, for weeks I couldn't eat properly. As an actress, as a feminist, and as an activist, I kept asking myself who, how, and when we would be able to shed light on this."
As this film reconstructs Soraya's life and killing with much dialogue, most of my attention was on the remote setting. Set in a secluded locale, the inhabitants are removed from urban facilities for legal help and are subject to any bias news that is rumored. The supporting cast is an ensemble of fine actors who tackle challenging parts with outstanding performances in a difficult subject matter of religious interpretations.
In this movie, only the Ayatollah appointed mullah (usually corrupt) has power in the offering of innovative solutions and techniques for balancing responsibility, harmony, and respect for pivotal dilemmas. This fact holds true in real life. The stoning scene takes center stage in this gripping movie and may be hard to sit still for. The authenticity builds to a climax and will break the hearts of the viewer.
This is a movie that will leave a long lasting impression on its audience. It did with me.
FILM RATING (A)