As mentioned earlier, The Stoning of Soraya M. will see its American premiere this Saturday at the LA Film Festival. Actress Shohreh Aghdashloo appeared on the Today show yesterday to promote the weighty and interestingly-timed movie.
The film is based on the best-selling novel with the same title by French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam. The 1994 book — which, by the way, was banned in Iran — tells the true story of the stoning of a young woman in a rural Iranian town. Soraya M. was the wife of an ambitious man who wanted out of their marriage, and found his freedom through accusing Soraya of adultery. The Stoning of Soraya M. follows Ali, the husband, as he schemes to get rid of his innocent wife. The film stars Aghdashloo as the victim's aunt and sole witness to the truth. The central tension of the movie results not from the title act, but rather from the struggle to bring the story of Soraya's death to the world outside their small village.
Yesterday Aghdashloo was interviewed by Ann Curry about her role in the film and her reactions to the Iran elections. She expresses her hope for Iran and her excitement about the possibility of political change. When asked for the "message that this movie tells us," Aghdashloo responds: "No matter what, we should do something. There must be a way to put an end to this horrific act of punishment... It makes me feel devastated, it makes me feel, to want to do something about it, and as an actor, this is the only thing I can do." She says the film accurately depicts the plight of women in Iran (and other countries) who are essentially "voiceless."
Michael Cieply, for the New York Times Media Decoder, argues that Soraya "has it all" with regards to timing. The film was originally released last September at the Toronto Film Festival but received second runner-up for the audience's choice award, which went instead to Slumdog Millionaire. Director Cyrus Nowrasteh's film will most likely fare better in America this year, but Nowrasteh admits that the movie may banned in Iran. "I don't think it'll be allowed to be seen there," he says, "but it probably will seep in via bootlegged DVDs — so I feel like it will eventually get seen and it will have an impact."
In his review for the Huffington Post Chip Hanlon calls Soraya fulfilling but emotionally draining, great in the same way as Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List. He argues that the central death is moving and horrific without being overly gruesome:
While the stoning is not easy to watch, the director did a good job of downplaying the graphic nature of the scene while still conveying the fact that such punishment is specifically meant as torture — rocks must be small enough so as not to deliver death too swiftly, and the process can apparently take many hours to complete. Certainly, the scene had to be shown to do justice to all those victims who have suffered this fate and to accurately portray the immense brutality of this despicable form of punishment.
However, even as he stresses the importance of the film's message, Hanlon ultimately missteps by advising "women and gays" to view the movie: "Women must see it, and keep in mind that by Iran's constitution the life of a female is worth half that of a male. Gays must see it, remembering the horrible repression of homosexuals in such systems." While Soraya sounds like a must-see for me, and probably many other women, the central message of the film is something that should be heard by everyone, male or female. As Aghdashloo points out, many people are still unaware of the brutal violence perpetrated against women in the name of morality. She hopes that Soraya may help change this, but it will not be able to do so unless it is viewed as more than just a reminder to women and gays how good we have it in America.
The Stoning Of Soraya M. [Official Site]
"The Stoning of Soraya M.," A Film About Iran Whose Time May Have Come [Media Decoder]
The Stoning of Soraya M: A Brave New Film On Women's Rights In Iran [Huffington Post]
'Leave Your Second Thoughts Behind' [National Post]