The Stoning of Soraya M.
ARTS EDITOR'S NOTE: Near the end of the business day on Wednesday, July 8, City Paper was informed that The Stoning of Soraya M. will not be opening Friday, July 10. Since this issue had already been published, we were unable to pull this review from the print edition. And as soon as we're informed of the new release date, we will amend this review's opening date information appropriately.
A barbarically simplistic treatment of a heinously barbaric act, director Cyrus Nowrasteh's The Stoning of Soraya M. doesn't outright insult intelligence, but it so shamelessly manipulates the emotions that it feels morally desperate. Based on the late French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam's 1994 novel of the same name, Stoning is inspired by a true story Sahebjam was told when he reported on Iran in 1986. His novel recounts the brutal story of Soraya Manutcheri, a 35-year-old wife and mother who was framed for infidelity by her husband, in collusion with the town mullah, a crime punishable by execution by stoning under Sharia law.
Nowrasteh's movie follows the novel's basic plot line. A journalist's (James Caviezel) car breaks down near the small village; there, Zahra (Shohreh Aghdashloo) tells him the horrific story about her niece, Soraya (Mozhan Marnò), whose cruel husband Ali (Navid Negahban) not only beats her and cavorts with prostitutes, but he wants to divorce Soraya so that he can marry the 14-year-old daughter of an inmate he watches over at the prison. Ali even enlists the village mullah (Ali Pourtash) to convince Soraya, who refuses primarily because without what little money Ali gives her she won't be able to support herself and her daughters. So Ali and the mullah cook-up adultery charges and false witnesses.
No part of this tale is subtle--the purely evil men might as well be twirling their moustaches like silent-movie villains--and most unsubtle of all is the nearly 20-minute execution. Now, this movie is obviously a loud voice screaming against such violence toward women, but it's delivered with misguided force. The resultant effect of this scene is that it classifies this horrific act as wrong because it's so viscerally unseemly, not because it's fundamentally unacceptable to devalue women so much that when one doesn't do as told you can have her elbows bound behind her back, bury her to her waist in the ground, and then have an entire community--including her husband, male children, father, and so-called religious leader--pummel her with rocks while chanting "God is great" until she dies in a bloody heap.
Slightly saving this movie from mere shock therapy is Aghdashloo, whose towering performance provides the only intelligence onscreen. Too bad it belongs in a more confident movie. Without a doubt, the execution in The Stoning of Soraya M. is unbearable, but it simplifies the issue. This movie settles for pointing out the painfully obvious fact that stoning is wrong. But it completely overlooks the blinding truth that such unconscionable acts arise from belief systems that view women as lesser human beings--attitudes propped up by many cultures, religions, philosophies, etc.