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The Stoning of Soraya M.

One of the first things you see in this movie is actor James Caviezel, who plays a journalist stranded by car trouble in a small Iranian village. It may occur to you that you haven’t seen him much in the five years since he starred in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Unfortunately, it’s not the last time you may be reminded of that film. The Stoning of Soraya M. recreates an incident that took place in a town in southwestern Iran in 1986 in which a woman whose refused to give a divorce to the husband who wanted to remarry a 14-year old girl was stoned to death. She was accused of adultery with a widower for whom she was working as a housekeeper. As depicted here by Iranian-American filmmaker Cyrus Nowrasteh (adapting a book by Freidoune Sahebjam, the Parisian reporter played by Caviezel), Soraya is encouraged to take the job by her scheming husband Ali and his cronies (who include a fake mullah and weak-willed mayor) in order to get her into a situation where they can find “evidence” of crime. Under sharia law, the film explains, “When a man accuses his wife, she must prove his innocence…If a wife accuses her husband, she must prove his guilt.” Just in case the injustice of that isn’t quite clear to you, the older woman (the excellent Oscar-nominated actress Shohreh Aghdashloo) who serves as the film’s voice of righteous indignation rephrases it, “All men are innocent, all women are guilty.” The climax of the film is a sickeningly explicit recreation of Soraya’s stoning. The entire sequence runs for 20 minutes; I admit that for the 10 minutes when stones were actually flying I fast-forwarded through the DVD screener. No one could argue that it is appalling that incidents like this occur in our world, and to the extent that a movie might bring awareness of them to more people, it would be doing admirable work. But Nowrasteh, whose motives I do not mean to impugn, has created an angry polemic so blunt as to be unwatchable. At best, his film merely preaches to the converted—no one who thinks stoning is a just punishment is likely to see this film and be convinced otherwise. And at worst, The Stoning of Soraya M. is likely to be welcomed only by those looking for justification of their hatred of all Islamic people.

m. faust

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Watch the trailer for The Stoning of Soraya M.

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