The Stoning of Soraya M.
dir Cyrus Nowrasteh
scr Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh, Cyrus Nowrasteh
prd Stephen McEveety, John Shepherd
with Shohreh Aghdashloo, Mozhan Marno, James Caviezel, Navid Negahban, Ali Pourtash, David Diaan, Parviz Sayyad, Bita Sheibani, Vida Ghahremani, Vachik Mangassarian, Maggie Parto, Yousef Shweihat
release US 26.Jun.09, UK 22.Oct.10
08/US 1h56
The Stoning of Soraya M
A terrible injustice: Marno

aghdashloo caviezel
los angeles film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Stoning of Soraya M Despite a slightly simplistic filmmaking style, this true story retains real force in its depiction of human cruelty in the name of religion. It's not easy to watch such horrific events, but it's so important that it cries out to be seen

In 1986, French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam (Caviezel) is driving through Iran when his car breaks down in an isolated village. Called "crazy" by the men, Zahra (Aghdashloo) corners him and recounts the brutal events of the preceding day. Defenceless in a society ruled by Sharia law, Zahra's niece Soraya (Marno) was the subject of a conspiracy led by her husband (Negahban), who wanted to marry a 14-year-old. To do this he had to gain the support of the local convict-turned-mullah (Pourtash) and the weak-willed mayor (Diaan).

The series of events is deeply unsettling as it vividly portrays an entire social system designed to control women, down to the fact that women always have the burden of proof in an adultery case, whether it's against her or her husband. Not only does this infuse society with flagrant injustice, but it allows men to give in to their darkest impulses, abusing power shamelessly and indulging sometimes gleefully in unspeakable cruelty.

The problem with the movie is that the story and themes are so potent that the filmmakers forget to include shadings that might make it more trustworthy. There isn't a single man in this village with enough backbone to stand up to the obvious evil. And every male character is a type: either a nasty thug, a manipulative control-freak or a weak-willed nice guy manipulated into participating in something wrong. For all the deeply felt religious fervour, no one stands up for what's right.

Except of course Zahra, and no one listens to her. Aghdashloo gives a strong central performance, vividly making us feel the oppression of the law, the men and even the clothing. Zahra seems like the only person who sees what's really going on, which is probably accurate since she's also the one who got the story out. But it's Marno's heart-wrenching performance as Soraya that engages us with the events and delivers the potent emotional resonance. And it's the raw power of Soraya's story that makes this film so vitally important.

cert 18 themes, language, disturbing violence 1.Jan.10

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© 2010 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall