Sunday, May 1, 2011

Movie Review: The Stoning of Soraya M

Critics compared "The Stoning of Soraya M." to Kafka, but actually nothing in the western canon of literature is comparable to the inadvertent self-parody -- the simple lunacy -- of a system of law that maintains that if a man is accused of infidelity by his wife, she must prove his guilt, but if a woman is accused, she must prove her innocence. Thus, in a single sentence, is a belief system codified. It is a system that rejects modernity, justice, equality and rationality -- and treats female sexuality as a vice.
Carl M Cannon from Soraya M, Stoned to Death for Being an "Inconvenient Wife".

I wanted to watch this movie when it came out in 2008 but life got busy, what with trying to find a full time job,running my daughters to music lessons and getting the older children off to university, it just never happened.
The Stoning of Soraya M is not an easy movie to watch. It tells the story of the stoning of 35 year old Soraya Manutchehri, mother to seven children and married to a brute of a man, Ghorban-Ali. Ali who worked as a prison guard in a neighbouring town, met a 14 year old girl whom he wanted to marry. Although he could have divorced Soraya, he did not want to pay child support and so with the complicity of the pretend-mullah in his village of Kupayeh, Ali had Soraya convicted of adultery. The punishment for such a crime was death by stoning in order to restore the honour of Ali and the men of Kupayeh. On August 15, 1986, the innocent Soraya was buried up to her waist and stoned to death. Her aunt, Zahra Khanum managed to tell the story to an Iranian-born French journalist, Freidoune Sahebjam who wrote a book about Soraya.
In the religious traditions of the West, free will is offered as an explanation for such depredations, but that rationale seems grossly insufficient. When packs of armed men shout "God is Great" while disfiguring, abasing, or killing women, surely God is weeping.

The Stoning of Soraya M is riveting and at times overwhelming. Director Cyrus Nowrasteh felt Soraya's story was important and wanted the world to know that this barbaric practice was still occurring in Iran and many other Islamic countries. Filming with a cast of Iranian actors who spoke Farsi, Nowrasteh captured the horror of Soraya's fate and the brutality of Islamic legal code that has no room for mercy.

The film's greatest strength besides an outstanding script, was its gifted cast. James Caviezel (Passion of Christ) was exceptional as journalist Freidoune Sahebjam. Nowrasteh has said that two well known actors were recruited to play the part but each dropped out because their wives were concerned they would be in danger if they made the movie. Caviezel was an obvious choice not only because the film's producer, Stephen McEveety had worked with Caviezel on Passion of Christ, but also because this wonderful actor has a gift for languages. And Nowrasteh and McEveety needed someone who could learn Farsi.

But it was actresses, newcomer Mozhan Marno (an LA native of Iranian descent) who played Soraya and Iranian born Shohreh Aghdashloo who played Zahra who truly shone. Their onscreen chemistry was superb, capturing the all the drama and hopelessness of Soraya's situation.

The Stoning of Soraya M made its debut at the Toronto Film Festival in 2008 and of course is now available on DVD.
Expect a high level of discomfort viewing this movie. The stoning scene is horrific. Watching a group of human beings torture a woman to death in the name of honour is not easy. As Carl Cannon states:

I do not know, as I told one of this movie's financial backers, whether Americans will sit through a film this sad and grisly. I only know that they should. It has been said many times since 9/11 that we are in a war of ideas -- and a shooting war as well -- with men who are confident that one day all the world will be governed by this kind of law. It would not be a world worth inhabiting. I am haunted by Soraya and her sisters.

For an excellent review of the movie checkout Carl Cannon's piece.

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