It has been quite a while since this film came out, yet ‘The Stoning of Soraya M.’ is still relevant. Its underlying themes of patriarchy, greed, and misogyny manifest themselves in various forms (maybe not as brutally as in the film) even today. I sincerely felt the need to write a review on this and make a few more people give it a watch, for this masterpiece deserves to reach beyond linguistic barriers.
The film tells the horrific tale of Soraya Manutchehri, an Iranian woman who was pushed into a pit dug for her by patriarchy, literally as well as figuratively. Soraya is caught in an abusive marriage which her ruthless husband, Ali. He offers to end things on his terms, terms that would leave her and her daughters unable to fend for themselves. She has few options left before her. After a particularly violent episode of domestic-abuse, she storms off to her widowed aunt Zahra’s place with her daughters, seeking refuge.
A convict-turned-mullah, whose unwanted advances were turned down by Soraya, aides Ali in hatching a plan that ends in her paying dearly with her life. The wicked duo manage to convince their fickle-minded mayor that Soraya is guilty of adultery with Hashem, the local mechanic. A lack of sufficient evidence doesn’t stop anyone from sentencing her to be buried till the waist and stoned to death. The village mechanic Hashem, played by Parviz Sayyad, out of fear for his life and what would become of his mentally-challenged son, agrees to utter a lie that leads to the death of Soraya, the woman who cooked, cleaned, took care of his son, in order to earn money to support herself and her daughters. The complex nature of his character is highlighted when he weeps and drops the stones he was given in order to hurl at her, though it was he who was pivotal to the scheme.
Iranian-American actress Mozhan Marno portrays the brave woman who refuses to let her troubles pull her down and looks out for her daughters. Be it the distress of having her own sons turned against her or the cynicism at her husband’s desire to marry a 14-year-old or the simple joys of watching birds fly over hills with her daughters, she emotes it all.
Her aunt, Zahra, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, is the feminist the remote village of Kuppayeh needs, but doesn’t deserve. Her feisty nature makes her defend her niece to the best of her abilities, for she even offers to be stoned so that Soraya could be spared.
Navid Negahban plays the repugnant Ali, who, unwilling to support two wives, plans to be rid of one, in order to marry another from a well-to-do family and does extreme justice to his role for one can feel hatred burning through them for his character. The stoning scene is gruesome to watch, yet one cannot take their eyes off the screen and the piteous waling of the helpless Soraya fills one with anger that is impossible to shake off. The mob that hurls stones at her is somehow Shakespearean, but alas, Soraya is no Mark Antony to sway the public opinion to her advantage.
The screenplay does not drag along with unnecessary sub-plots and is cleverly written. The arrival of a circus and the first stones missing their mark are depicted as the divine signs that the mayor prays for, vowing to stop the heinous punishment, were they to appear, but are unheeded nevertheless. The background score is kept to a bare minimum, yet complements the cinematography.
The story is narrated by Zahra to Iranian-French journalist, Freidoune Sahebjam, who is stuck in the village for a few hours owing to the breakdown of his car, and barely manages to escape with his life and the tape carrying the recording. The image of Zahra blocking the men pursuing the journalists’s car and exclaiming that the whole world will know the story of Soraya and that truth cannot be silenced, burns into one’s mind and stays on as a reminder that the story of her niece is one of the many innocents who fell prey to greed and misogyny. The film, excellently made, makes for a very emotionally disturbing watch which makes one bubble with anger, long after the film has ended.