The Rare Review

Movies, books, music and TV

“The Stoning of Soraya M.” In All Its Horror

2009’s The Stoning of Soraya M., directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh, dramatizes the true story of a woman who was victimized in an “honor killing” in an Iranian village.  The charge of adultery against Soraya was false, but her vile husband wanted her dead so that no financial support would have to follow a desired divorce.  A verdict was reached and Soraya was put to death by stoning.

Don’t act like the hypocrite,

Who thinks he can conceal his wiles

While loudly quoting the Koran.

These words by a 14th-century Iranian poet are written on the screen before the film begins.  Hypocrisy both religious, represented by a phony mullah and the village mayor, and nonreligious, represented by the husband, is attacked in Soraya M. So, of course, is the backward, depersonalizing attitude toward women in the Islamic world.  Soraya’s energetic aunt, played by Shoreh Aghdashloo, tries to save her niece from what is being plotted, but is constantly pushed to the side.  As the stoning begins she is nearly hysterical:  she understands the horror of this brutal treatment.  The stoning sequence is one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen in a movie–infuriatingly bloody and ugly.

Nowrasteh’s film is worthy of comparison with the neorealist cinema of De Sica.  It is a straightforward, grim, compassionate indictment of theocratic authorities in Iran.  Mozhan Marno is first-rate, with her fortitude and anguish, as Soraya.

The Writer-Liar: “Shattered Glass”

Young Stephen Glass was a “journalist” for the left-leaning The New Republic magazine. Intelligent but unprincipled, he fabricated a lot of his stories—the subject of the Billy Ray film Shattered Glass (2003), starring Hayden Christenson as Stephen.

How the man managed to get away with this for years I don’t know, but it is almost small potatoes since hardly anyone has ever read The New Republic or even most conservative publications. Still, I am curious whether the mag has always been duly concerned about the truth.

Ray’s movie is rather too grave and it does not properly track Glass’s complexity. Too, I think the critic Anthony Quinn is correct in asking, “what is the point of this movie?”

Dancin’ and Shortchangin’: “Footloose” of 2011

I never saw the original Footloose movie from 1984, but the story told in Footloose the Remake (2011) is pure rubbish.  It rattles along indecorously and, in spite of everything, it’s dated.  Yet filmmaker Craig Brewer concentrates on it as carefully as he does the dancing.  Big mistake.

Even so, at least the dancing doesn’t get shortchanged.  The music does.  Both “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” and a forceful White Stripes song get lost in the narrative balderdash.  Footloose should have been more of a musical and less of a drama.

The movie stars Kenny Wormald (Ren) and Julianne Hough (Ariel).  Ren is a teenaged know-it-all, Ariel knows nothing except how to have fun.  I wish to have no truck with either of them.

Be On Caution When Lovers Walk: “A Taste of Honey”

I wish I could see a stage production of Shelagh Delaney‘s play, A Taste of Honey, since it makes for a very small if successful motion picture. Yet the use of a great actor—young Rita Tushingham—helps to turn this 1961 British product to curious gold. Tushingham plays Jo, who feels little loved by her mother (flawless Dora Bryan) and is impudent. Making what is perhaps the worst mistake of her life, she gets sufficiently intimate with a young black sailor to become pregnant with his child. Departing, he doesn’t know about it. Jo gains a friend in a competent homosexual boy, Geoffrey, but he too feels he must leave her.

The film deals with abandonment, even by and of the disrespected of society. Tony Richardson‘s directing is graceful and felt, the extreme closeups well-chosen. The screenplay, which he co-wrote with Delaney, works. He got winning performances from Paul Danquah as the sailor and Robert Stephens (Peter Smith) as well.

Redgrave Royal: “Mary, Queen of Scots”

Vanessa Redgrave is nigh plain-looking in Charles Jarrott‘s Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), as she is not in Blow-Up, but she is a superb Mary Stuart. Though not without some historical inaccuracies, the film chronicles Mary’s adult life, especially in Scotland, and is too episodic, too crammed with striking incidents. It is riveting, even so, particularly when the commanding Glenda Jackson (Elizabeth I) is on screen and the duel between the two queens proceeds apace.

Timothy Dalton (Mary’s heinous husband, Lord Darnley) and especially Ian Holm are impressive as arrant losers. The film’s costumes and sets contribute much. Is Mary about anything in particular? Well, it’s about ambition in a domain of death. And it’s about fine acting.

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