‘The Stoning of Soraya M’ – the good, the bad, and the ugly

Shohreh Aghdashloo (top) and Mozhan Marno as Soraya

Shohreh Aghdashloo (top) and Mozhan Marno as Soraya

Lots of buzz about the new film, “The Stoning of Soraya M,” which Huffington Post blogger Chip Hanlon calls “extraordinary” and film critic Emanuel Levy labels “a powerful tale.” The movie – a dramatization of a 1986 stoning in Iran – opens today across the United States, and before the hyperbole really sinks in, let’s make five essential points:

Point 1: In Iran, stonings still happen of women (and men) accused of adultery or other offenses. How many stonings take place is unclear. Rafat Bayat, who is one of 13 women in Iran’s parliament, recently told CNN’s Christine Amanpour that “only” three or four have happened since Iran’s 1979 revolution. A more reliable source, Amnesty International, reports that “at least five men and one woman have been stoned to death (in Iran) since 2002.”

Point 2: The director of “The Stoning of Soraya M,” Cyrus Nowrasteh, is an Iranian-American with a conservative outlook who says it’s “a by-product for me of how I came to be in this country after a lot of people in my family had suffered under hardcore, radical fundamentalism (in Iran).” Nowrasteh, whose “The Path to 9/11” miniseries was criticized for blatant inaccuracies, wants his work to counteract liberal voices in Hollywood, saying, “I think that most shrill voices here are usually from that (liberal) side of the aisle.”

Point 3: Nowrasteh went out of his way to hide where “Soraya” was made, saying in his film notes that “ he discovered a discreetly tucked-away hamlet in an undisclosed Arab country in the Middle East.” Turns out the country was Jordan. Why would Nowrasteh be so secretive of the film’s location? Did he think there’d be a backlash against Jordan for allowing him to film there?

Point 4: “The Stoning of Soraya M” is another great showcase for Shohreh Aghdashloo, who portrays the aunt of the woman who is stoned to death. One of our finest actresses, she first made a big name for herself in “House of Sand and Fog,” the 2003 drama that won her an Oscar nomination. When I interviewed her for that movie, she said that she fled Iran in 1978 because “I could see the foundation for an Islamic republic; I drove to Europe with two friends.”

Point 5: “The Stoning of Soraya M” is ultimately a big let-down – a drama that traffics in synthetic Hollywood moments that are almost caricatures of Hollywood moments. Roger Ebert captured it when he wrote, “That the pitiful death of Soraya is followed by a false Hollywood upbeat ending involving tape recordings and silliness about a car that won’t start is simply shameful.” It’s shameful because the ending is so transparently manufactured – a happy conclusion to a movie that (nevertheless) deserves kudos for depicting the kind of stone-age thinking that still exists around the world.

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One Response to ‘The Stoning of Soraya M’ – the good, the bad, and the ugly

  1. tamersky says:

    A quick note on the filming location.

    The “discreetly tucked-away hamlet in an undisclosed Arab country in the Middle East” turns out to be Dhana, a Jordanian mountaintop ghost town just north of Crac de Montréal, completely abandoned in the seventies, and recently turned, along with the adjacent wadi, into a nature reserve. That Dhana is one of Jordan’s underrated traveler attractions explains why Jordan’s ministry of culture allowed the filming to go on on the location. I guess taking over a tiny Jordanian town for six weeks to shoot would’ve flustered the village elders and made them less welcoming of a film portraying them as a savage mob (all the extras in the film, including the armed men, were jordanian. you could notice the guttural accent when they repeatedly chanted “execution!”).

    Either way, for the director to claim that he discovered some pristine mountain village *tucked* in some hidden ravine in the Middle East is akin to claiming to have stumbled upon Santorini and then opting to enshroud the filming location (not even saying Greece) with secrecy. Give me a break.

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