(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: The harrowing true story from Iran. An Iranian woman became "inconvenient" for her husband who wants to trade her for a younger wife. He frames her for adultery, connives to have her found guilty and sentenced to death, and participates in her execution. We see the stoning in horrific detail. The story is simple and compelling and the title leaves no doubt where the story is going. This is a powerful film for those willing to see its extreme violence. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

Soraya Manutchehri was an Iranian woman who was married at age 13 to a petty thug, Ghorban-Ali seven years her senior. In 1986, after twenty-two hellish years of beatings and infidelity from her husband he wanted to take a younger wife. He could not support two wives so he decided he had to be rid of the first wife. He frames Soraya for adultery with the help of a corrupt local mullah. As Islamic law was practiced at that time the burden of proof was on her to prove her innocence and with false witness testimony against her she had no chance. It is an easy matter to have her found guilty. Then, pulling few punches, the film shows graphically an execution by stoning.

The film is told mostly in flashback the day after the execution. The mountain village, Kupayeh, is visited by a journalist in need of a car repair. He is played by James Caviezel, who was similarly martyred in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. A woman wants to talk to him, though others tell him she is mad. This is Zahra, (Shohreh Aghdashloo of HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG), the aunt of Soraya M (Mozhan Marnoand) who tells him the story behind the stoning.

It would be easy to identify the husband Ali (Navid Negahban) as the villain of the piece, but there is more than enough fault to go around. One judge displays a little conscience, but allows himself to be overruled. He is the only man in the village who is shown to have any objections to the proceedings. On the other hand when the village of men go to rock-throwing only one woman in the crowd seems to be enthusiastic about the killing.

The film has many images that may seem strange to an American audience. The mountain village of stone buildings is an odd juxtaposition with the modern sports car that Soraya's husband Ali drives around to impress his intended new wife.

Though the film is mostly in Persian, it is actually an American film. Cyrus Nowrasteh directs a screenplay he co-authored with his wife Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh from the book by French journalist Freidoune Sahebjam. The film they have made is strongly affecting with the stoning sequence lasting twenty minutes all by itself. The director is pulling no punches. This film grabs the emotions of the viewer, particularly anger and pity. But the film is on a strong subject. If the viewer is not angered by the situation the film has not done its job. Perhaps not wanting to leave on just the note of the martyrdom there is about ten minutes after the stoning sequence with a little action that might seem to be anti- climax.

The fact that there was one sociopath in the country, Soraya's husband, is not much of an indictment against anyone but him. But the fact that he could so easily get Islamic Fundamentalism to become his accomplice raises very disturbing questions. The film is a warning about what can happen when a people delegates their private consciences to someone else's interpretation of a book. Perhaps the most important resource that any community has is their collective private conscience. When people abandon it for promised rewards in the afterlife, the result is disaster. I rate THE STONING OF SORAYA M a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper