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June 20, 2009

The Stoning of Soraya M.

The-stoning In fulfilling its blatantly exploitative title, director Cyrus Nowrasteh crafts a prosaic telling of the brutal 1986 murder of an Iranian family woman, as orchestrated by her own husband in the interest of avoiding divorce payments and running off with a teenaged girl. Shohreh Aghdashloo plays Zahra, the caring aunt to Soraya (Mozhan Marno), a wife and mother to four children. Zahra catches the attention of Sahebjam (well played by Jim Caviezel), a French-Iranian journalist passing through her dusty village on the day after the public stoning of Soraya by nearly every friend, neighbor, and family member. Zahra retells the events into Sahebjam's tape recorder as the film switches to flashbacks leading up to, and including, the promised sequence wherein Soraya is buried up to her waist and stoned to death like a bad animal. Based on Freidoune Sahebjam's best-selling book, "The Stoning of Soraya M." overreaches with maudlin slow-motion shots to dramatize the gruesome violence of the terrible event to ostensibly bring global attention to the primitive practice of honor killings in the Middle East. But there is something condescending and shoddy in the filmmaker's subtext that seems to exonerate Western culture as somehow less complicit in the atrocious murders that it commits against innocent and guilty citizens alike. With American police beating, tasing, and shooting women, children, and men to death every week, the film could have been made with a more honest approach, as a more inclusive indictment of any form of capital punishment and authority-endorsed violence. The disjointed shift from a flat soap opera approach to a slo-mo ballet of violence announces the film's unjustifiable grab for shock value and backfires as a fetishized celebration of the violent act that the title predicts. Here is an example of on-the-nose exploitation filmmaking at its most unsophisticated level. Anyone with a BS detector will know it when you see it. It's one thing to illustrate social injustice, and quite a different thing to reward it.  
Rated R. 116 mins. (C-) (Two Stars)


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