Monday, July 13, 2009
The Stoning of Soraya M. (Fallen Films 2008)
I have not had the chance to see this film yet, but if it's anything like from what I've seen and read it looks to be a winner.
Here's a film review from Stephen F. Hayes of The Weekly Standard...
The Stoning of Soraya M. is an intense film. It is a beautiful film. It is a disturbing film. Mostly, though, it is an important film--one that reminds us, powerfully and without apology, what evil looks like, what it feels like, and why it's crucial that we recognize and condemn evil when we see it, even when it might be easier to downplay or rationalize or ignore it.
For that reason, Soraya might be the best-timed movie release in decades. Directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh and produced by Stephen McEveety and John Shepherd of Mpower Pictures, it is set in a rural Iranian village in 1986. It is based on the true story of Freidoune Sahebjam, a French-Iranian reporter who happened upon the town one day after the public stoning of Soraya M., and learned of the horrific act from Soraya's aunt.
Soraya is convicted of adultery after Ali, her abusive husband of 20 years and father of her four children, invents a story about Soraya's supposed liaison with the village idiot, a recent widower. The charges are false. Ali, a jailer, made them up so that he could leave Soraya for the 14-year-old daughter of a local doctor under his watch in prison. Ali blackmails the local sheikh into endorsing the charges and, with this backing, eventually tricks or cajoles several others, including the town's gullible mayor, into joining the harassment of Soraya.
The heroine of the story is Zahra, Soraya's aunt, a feminist anachronism, an outspoken woman who stubbornly refuses to give up
her voice in the early years of Iran's post-Revolution theocracy. And it is a haunting voice, both in tone and substance. Zahra, played by the Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, known primarily for her work in House of Sand and Fog and the fourth season of 24, has a deep, gruff voice that ads urgency to her pleas on behalf of Soraya, and adds strength to her confrontations with villagers.
The Stoning of Soraya M. has a curiously suspenseful feel to it, despite the fact that the title eliminates any doubt about Soraya's eventual fate. Will they actually do it? How will they do it? Who will participate?
The stoning scene itself is gruesome. Early in the sequence, Soraya, wearing all white and buried up to her waist, is struck in the forehead with a sharp stone. Blood that begins as a trickle soon pours out of her fresh wound, discoloring her dress and the loose dirt around her. The violence, though difficult to watch, is powerful and essential: This is what evil looks like. It should be uncomfortable.
It has also proven uncomfortable for some critics. The New York Times's Stephen Holden, who once lauded Quentin Tarantino's blood-soaked Reservoir Dogs as a "critic's choice," worries that the violence in Soraya veers off into "lurid torture-porn," and that the contrast between good and evil is too pronounced. Real evil, it seems, is much more difficult to comprehend than the pretend or abstract variety.
We have seen this from the White House as well. Speaking as a candidate, Barack Obama promised to stand for the human rights of Iranian bloggers and to support those who have marched and bled for democracy. Those were nice sentiments that helped him sound presidential at a time in his campaign when sounding presidential mattered most. But for more than a week after Iran's fraudulent elections, as Iranian bloggers were being silenced, and as Iran's marchers for democracy were bleeding in the streets, President Obama was virtually silent. And when the regime dispatched its thugs to smother protests with wanton brutality, Obama praised Iran's "vigorous debate."
The stoning scene was eerily reminiscent of a spectacle that unfolded in Tehran on June 20. A member of the regime's Basij militia gunned down a beautiful young woman standing on the side of the road, near a rally. A shaky video of the immediate aftermath was quickly uploaded and available for viewing on the Internet. It shows Neda Agha-Soltan--whose first name means "voice"--lying on the ground, surrounded by a group of men frantically trying to stop the bleeding from a wound in her chest.
As the camera focuses on her face, her life drifts away. And as her great brown eyes roll backwards, blood begins to flow from her eyes and nose--slowly at first, then in an inexorable flood of death.
President Obama would eventually condemn the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan and others like it. But he did so reluctantly, and only when he had no other political choice. Neda wasn't stoned to death, but she might as well have been. The method of her killing was more technologically advanced and efficient, but that was the only difference between her murder and the stoning of Soraya M.
Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.
Here is the trailer...