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.