When: Thursday, 27 May - Thursday, 8 July
Where: Chauvel Cinema , Cnr Oxford St & Oatley Rd, Paddington
How much: $15
Granted, the title lets you know what you’re in for, but The Stoning of Soraya M. still manages to leave you feeling utterly undone. Based on the French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam’s best-selling book, the film uncovers the horrific true story of Soraya M. (Mozhan Marnò) as it was daringly recounted to him by her grief-stricken aunt Zahra Khanum (Shohreh Aghdashloo). James Caviezel (no stranger to brutal religious rites after his turn in The Passion of the Christ) plays Sahebjam, whose car breaks down on the edge of a dusty Iranian village in 1986, and, while he waits for the repairman, Zahra audaciously takes the opportunity to report the atrocity that occurred only the day before.
The moral outrage of writer/director team Cyrus and Betsy Nowrasteh is palpable, infused in a film that may become a little preachy but nonetheless asserts itself as an important document for the world’s attention. Aghdashloo is superb, embodying her character with such ferocious passion that it is possible to overlook some of the more clunky lines of dialogue. Marnò is similarly impressive, bringing striking realism to the role of a slighted wife — whose husband wants rid of her to remarry a 14-year-old — and one condemned to death by the most archaic, barbarous means. Unfortunately, other characters fall into stereotypes: a singularly spiteful and calculating husband (Navid Negahban), a conniving Mullah (Ali Pourtash) and a hapless neighbour (Parviz Sayyad) blackmailed into bearing false witness. However, the town mayor (David Diaan) does bring some refreshing ambivalence to a film that otherwise borders on melodramatic misogyny.
It should come as no surprise, then, that this film is very heavy going; the lengthy stoning scene will undoubtedly test your mettle. Yet there is something powerful about bearing witness to the true horror of this practice, the experience of which rescues the reality from the realm of nightmare, and in doing so enters its audience into a significant (and tragically contemporary) dialogue.
By Alice Tynan