Based on Freidoune Sahebjam's international best-seller of the same name (1994), The Stoning of Soraya M. is a poignant and tragic reminder of the potential peril women, particularly those who are without the protection of the law, continue to face in our modern world.
The recipient of multiple awards including the Audience Choice Award (The Toronto International Film Festival) and the Justice Award Cinema for Peace (The Berlin International Film Festival), The Stoning of Soraya M. has been described as "emotionally explosive [and] profoundly compelling" by USA Today.
Set during 1986 in a remote Iranian village, the film opens with an epigraph, a quote from a 14th century Iranian poet: "Don't act like the hypocrite, who thinks he can conceal his wiles while loudly quoting the Koran." Here, the audience is immediately charged with the responsibility of bearing witness to and taking note of a cautionary tale about greed, corruption and hypocrisy.
Equally, the audience is called upon to witness the admirable strength and heroic courage of two women in the face of adversity and grave danger.
Mozhan Marno gives a moving performance as Soraya, a compassionate and loyal mother of four, who is framed for adultery by her scheming husband, Ali.
Though wrongly accused and convicted, Soraya shows great courage in a symbolic act of defiance. Donning her wedding dress to her execution, Soraya testifies to her innocence and fidelity.
Propositioned by the local mullah, Soraya refuses to divorce her violent and unfaithful husband for the sake of her daughters' welfare.
Shots like this one, of Soraya enjoying an afternoon with her two daughters, show the unwavering love of a mother for her children.
Ali consequently proceeds to lie and manipulate the village authorities to convict his wife of infidelity, here a criminal offence punishable by death, in order to be free to marry a girl with whom he has an extramarital affair.
Portrayed by Jim Caviezel, journalist Freidoune Sahebjam listens intently as Zahra relays to him the tragic fate of her niece, Soraya.
Having sworn to "tell the world…the truth", Soraya's aunt, Zahra, communicates all of this to a journalist (Jim Caviezel) stranded in the village because of car trouble. Though she talks in hushed whispers, Zahra's passion and harrowing tale effectively give voice to the voiceless.
Zahra, portrayed by Shohreh Aghdashloo, and Zahra share an intimate moment minutes before Zahra is brutally stoned to death.
Instrumental in Ali's scheme is Parviz Sayyad's character, Hashem (right), the local mechanic who is strong-armed into complying with Ali's demands.
Here, it is important to note that The Stoning of Soraya M. does not promote the cause of Islamophobia; it is first and foremost a narrative about empowering the disempowered and the dangers of the misuse of power.
The stunning cinematography and aural qualities of this film combine to create a powerful affective experience that will move you to tears and beyond.
The scene in which Soraya is publicly stoned is particularly intense and difficult to watch. Be advised, this scene leaves nothing to the imagination. Having said this, if you don't have a problem watching the violence and gore that feature so prominently in contemporary cinema, you shouldn't have any major issues with this scene despite its very confronting qualities.
Villagers collect stones in preparation for the public execution.
In contrast to the more brutal scenes are sweeping scenic shots. This juxtaposition heightens the inhumanity of the crimes perpetrated on-screen, but, at the same time, inspires viewers to actively preserve and promote the beauty and sanctity of life.
If you watch but one challenging film this year, let it be this one. It is a truly powerful and moving experience.
The Stoning of Soraya M. (2008) alternate DVD cover. Image courtesy of Yahoo!Movies