Based on the book written by French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam, The Stoning Of Soraya M. is a powerful and damning uncovering of the state of human rights for women in Iran. The book was a massive best-seller and is still banned in Iran to this day. While travelling through Iran, Sahebjam (played by James Caviezel in the film) arrived at a small village when his car broke down and learned of the terrible story of Soraya Manutchehri through her aunt, as she revealed to him how the lies and the corruption of powerful men in the village led to the brutal murder of her niece.
Soraya (Mozhan Marno) is unhappily married to the violent Ali (Navid Negahban), who after falling for a 14 year old girl, wants a divorce and to take his two boys away with him. Soraya refuses, as the pitiful support that Ali had offered in return would not be enough to sustain her and their two daughters, whom Ali has no interest in. When Soraya goes to help out the recently widowed Ebrahim (David Diaan) by looking after his house and child, Ali accuses her of adultery, which is a crime punishable by stoning in Iran. Ebrahim is threatened if he doesn't agree with the accusations, and Ali along with the town's mullah (Ali Pourtash), cook up rumours about the infidelity, and eventually Soraya is 'tried' and sentenced to death by stoning. Her aunt Zahra (Shohreh Aghdashloo) campaigns against it but to no avail, and must wait with Soraya while they await the inevitable.
I wouldn't be ruining anything by saying that Soraya is stoned to death towards the end of the film. I mean, the film is called The Stoning Of Soraya M. When it does arrive, it is the most brutal and realistic portrayal of a stoning I've ever seen on screen. Actually, I don't think I've ever seen it done before, but it's a sickening scene that really forces the point home. The film teaches a lot about what some of the laws dictate in Iran and the appalling attitude it has to women. When Soraya is first accused, she is told she must prove her husband wrong. She asks that surely it is down to him to prove that he is right? But she is told that if it was a man that was accused by a woman, then the woman must prove herself right, and when the other way around, it is again down to the woman to prove the man wrong. It is truly a man's world, and women seem to be damned regardless.
I have to mention that I am basing my opinion solely on this film, as I have never been to Iran, and want to make that clear. But amongst all the news reports of women being stoned to death after being raped, and having a child outside of marriage, it doesn't sound like the most liberal, forward-thinking country. It is an appalling state of affairs that in the modern world women would be treated with such disregard.
The film itself, however powerful, seems to be a little one-dimensional. It is undoubtedly an eye-opener and delivers a gut-punch message, but the scheming men behind this terrible crime are portrayed so viciously and without trying to show a reason behind why they are like this. These men are evil, there is no doubting that, but I felt the film could have delved deeper into the social attitudes of the country on a larger scale, to help me understand how Iran has become this way.
But the film did have an effect on me. Afterwards I felt angry and appalled, and stunned that this is an event that actually happened. How can these men gather around like a pack of wild animals and watch a helpless woman die in one of the most horrific and painful deaths imaginable?
I feel this could have been a much better film if director Cyrus Nowrasteh wouldn't have been so focused on simply telling the events that unfolded, and put more emotion into the script and the character development.