Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Stoning of Soraya M.

"At its heart, this movie is a human drama filled with tension, peril and hope - but it is also a true story that I felt strongly had to be told, a story the whole world needs to know." -- Director, Cyrus Nowrasteh
This is the theme of the- story revealed by an Iranian-French journalist Freidoune Sahebjam (Jim Caviezel) whose car left him stranded in a remote Iranian hamlet burdened with a terrible secret. In Iran under the Ayatollah Khomeini, where fundamentalist selfish men to suppress women, and even use Islam dispose of them when they thwart their desires. Zahra (Shohreh Aghdashloo) exerts great persuasive power to interest Sahebjam in hearing the story, risking repercussions from the village mullah (Ali Pourtash) and mayor, who try to pass her off as insane. Finally, she convinces the journalist to come to her home, and record on his tape recorder the horrendous story of the stoning of her niece Soraya (Mozhan Marno) the day before.
That is how the novel “The Stoning of Soraya M” on which the film is based, came to be.

Soraya is a lovely young mother of four with an abusive adulterous husband Ali (Navid Negahbam) who has his eye on second wife he can’t afford, so he asks Soraya for a divorce. In this poor village, such an arrangement would mean certain starvation, so Soraya refuses. It is in her kindness that Ali spies an opportunity, and soon he is convincing the Mullah to falsely accuse Soraya of adultery. With devastating ease, the men in the story become complicit in murder; each of them has a shameful personal reason to brutalize the innocently beautiful Soraya.

Soraya’s seraphic smile and her tender compassion combined with her aunt’s fierce loyalty are the saving graces of a vicious plot strung taught with anticipation of the impending tragedy. No spoilers here; the title of the film gives away the ending, yet the film, like “The Passion of the Christ” also produced by Steve McVeety, is worth watching for the dignity of screenwriters Cyrus and Betsy Geffen Mowrasteh’s direction, and the commanding performances by mostly unknown actors. Actress Shoreh Aghdashloo, better know to American audiences as the charming Elizabeth from “The Nativity Story”, is Zahra, the pivotal figure of the film who boldly clashes with the somewhat reasonable mayor Ibrahim as he is swept into the insane current of mob violence.

Soaring cinematography, gripping performances, and the distinctive Middle Eastern style musical score of John Debney (composer for the Passion of the Christ) redeem a shameful story of deception and murder, elevating it to soul-searing enlightenment. Your heart will be rent but not destroyed by Soryaya M. The screening audience the theatre charged with renewed determination to fight such abuse of women. Soraya’s tragic story will continue to be repeated until more members of the international community rise up and take decisive action to liberate women from sexual slavery, starvation, and abuse.


Monica @ Monkey Musings said...

Thank you for your excellent review.

Agape said...

Just a bit of context. The events
depicted took place 25 years ago. A moratorium order on executions by stoning came into force in December 2002.

Stoning was widely imposed in the early years after the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the pro-Western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and brought hard-line
clerics to power. But in recent years, it has seldom been applied, although the government rarely confirms when it carries out stoning sentences.

There were unconfirmed media reports that a couple was stoned in 2006 in the eastern city of Mashhad, close to Afghanistan. In July 2007 a man accused of
adultery was stoned to death in a small village in northern Iran. This was first time in years that the country confirmed such an execution, and it brought down
condemnation from international human rights groups and U.N. human rights chief Louise Arbour. The Dutch foreign minister (= Secretary of State) made a huge
deal of it, as did Norway, both summoning the Iranian ambassador to protest the stoning. It's this kind of international pressure that helps women's rights
activists campaigning to have the sentence removed from Iran's statutes and strengthens the position of Iran's reformist legislators, who have repeatedly
demanded an end to death by stoning as a punishment for adultery, but opposition
from hard-line clerics has sidelined their efforts.

Sorry for the extended post, but the film and its reviews, which rightly spotlight an inhumane and barbaric method of punishment, might lead people to believe that stonings are the order of the day in Iran. I'm glad the Middle
Eastern distributors in Cannes are bidding hard for it, because stoning is a practice
that needs to be eradicated from the entire Middle East, India, Pakistan and Africa.

Leticia said...

Thank you Agape, for the history lesson. I certainly hope that stoning is as rare as you suggest, as the film upset me greatly, and I know that, even if stoning is rare there is untold suffering like this in the world which we are overlooking.
Not the least of which happens in our own nation; 1,500 abortions a day.

Skye said...

If hanging or hacking to death Iranian citizens who speak up is the norm today, how soon will stoning women be back in vogue in Tehran?