THE STONING OF SORAYA M. (Cyrus Nowrasteh, 2008)

This disgusting, worthless U.S. film that masquerades as an Iranian one—it is almost entirely in Farsi—cheapens a serious theme: since the Islamic Revolution, Iran’s shift to intolerance toward women. Based on actual events in 1986 Kupayeh, Iran, the plot is this: Ali, a man who has grown tired of his wife, Soraya, in an arranged marriage, lies, declaring that she has been unfaithful, for which offense (which many villagers know is bogus) she is stoned to death, with her father and two young sons joining in, so that Ali can marry a 14-year-old girl in another arranged marriage. For the most part, this talky, prolonged, exceedingly dull movie comes to sensational life only during the 20-minute passage of the stoning, which is sickeningly rendered in loving detail. When it seems finally to be over, Ali, checking the bloody body, determines that Soraya isn’t dead yet and the execution is resumed.
     The film is exploitative in the extreme, with only one monotonous visual idea: imagery that little light penetrates as correlative to the moral, cultural and political darkness into which the Revolution has plunged Iran. (Of course, his record on women’s rights is about the only thing to commend the Shah whose viciousness sparked the 1979 Revolution.) It is also unconvincingly written by the director, Cyrus Nowrasteh, and wife Betsy Giffen, who give the material a howlingly bad narrative frame: Soraya’s aunt, Zahra (Shohreh Aghdashloo, strident, selfconsciously slow-talking, pretentious), impressing a visiting Iranian-French journalist, Freidoune Sahebjam, to record her account of yesterday’s stoning. Jesus Christ himself, James Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ, 2004), plays Sahebjam, who wrote the book upon which the film is based. In its sadistic cruelty, the Nowrastehs’ film may have been inspired by Mel Gibson’s.

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