The Stoning Of Soraya M

The Stoning Of Soraya M

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Execution may be a divisive subject, but when it comes to stoning to death there is almost universal condemnation of its barbarity, and the issue has once again hit headlines in the past few months following the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, whose sentence to death by stoning as penance for adultery was recently suspended by the Iranian government in the face of a global outcry. Here, the subject is tackled head on in the dramatisation of the true story of Iranian woman Soraya M (Mozhan MarnĂ²), who was sentenced to death by stoning and for whom there was no reprieve.

Although she is condemned for adultery against her husband Ali (Navid Negahban), in fact, Soraya's crime is simply that she refuses to divorce him because it will result in she and her daughters becoming destitute. Unable to persuade her by fair means, he opts for murder by proxy, using blackmail, threats and a hefty dose of plain old conniving to trump up a charge of adultery and make it stick.

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There is no doubt a noble idea lying at the heart of this film and you would have to be carved from stone yourself not to find the lengthy (bordering on exploitative) sequence in which Soraya is slaughtered a grim and disturbing watch. However, much of the action is laboured and the acting - with the exception of Shohreh Aghdashloo, who more or less carries the film single-handedly as Soraya's feisty Aunt Zahra - is, at best, unremarkable. There is also a tendency towards the melodramatic that ill befits a film trying to put across such a serious point. Many of the directorial choices are also odd, such as the use of tricksy camerawork during the stoning scene and an ill-judged insertion of a 'dream' segment to break it up. Worse still is the use of a framing story involving journalist (Jim Caviezel, surely cast partially in the knowledge that images of him in Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ would spring vividly to mind as Soraya is stoned to a pulp). Everything about this device of a journalist coming to town and having tea and a tape session with Zahra before having to take on the locals rings false and feels as though it has been culled from a far inferior television film.

Also problematic is the story's focus on the central handful of characters - most of whom are portayed as flat-out villains. This means that there is little sense of the broader picture and the pyschological steps that must necessarily be taken if a town is to suddenly single out a previously well-loved neighbour and kill them in cold blood.

Director Cyrus Nowrasteh is known for his television work and if this were a made-for-TV film it would be a solid example of its type. But though it is perfectly watchable, it latches onto the more simplistic domestic aspect of the story at the expense of exploring the more difficult and complex political issues that enable this sort of killing to come about in the first place.

Reviewed on: 22 Oct 2010
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True story of a woman executed for adultery under sharia law.
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Director: Cyrus Nowrasteh

Writer: Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh, Cyrus Nowrasteh, based on the book by Freidoune Sahebjam

Starring: Shohreh Aghdashloo, Mozhan Marnò, James Caviezel, Navid Negahban, Ali Pourtash, David Diaan, Parviz Sayyad, Vida Ghahremani, Vachik Mangassarian, David Fariborz Davoodian, Maggie Parto, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Bita Sheibani, Yousef Shweihat

Year: 2010

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Iran, US

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