When a journalist is stranded in her remote village, she takes a bold chance to reveal what the villagers will stop at nothing to keep hidden.
When thinking of a film that shows bravery and heroism, and a battle between the power-hungry, and those that fight for truth, any number of blockbuster movies may spring to mind. Yet the heroism and bravery in this film does not have a CGI background, nor does it have futuristic gadgets or fast cars. But what this film has more than any other I have seen in recent years, if ever before, is a soul.
The Stoning of Soraya M tells the story of the true events leading up to the stoning of an innocent woman in Iran in 1986. It is only because of the bravery and heroism of Soraya’s aunt, Zahra, and the journalist Freidoune Sahebjam who listened to her during a chance encounter that this story was ever told, and became published as a book with the same name in 1994. This incredible film is a faithful adaptation of that book, even down to a bizarre travelling circus that appears with tragically inappropriate timing.
Corruption follows injustice as Soraya’s horrifying fate is sealed by those whom she has lived amongst, befriended and trusted following a shocking chain of events precipitated by her misogynistic husband. When the sentence comes to be carried out, for possibly the first time ever in a feature film, the stoning is depicted in a lengthy and harrowing sequence that caused several of us in the screening room to sob. Incredibly, despite the violence, the gore and the terror of the scene, there is sensitivity and emotion in every frame of this stunningly conceived few minutes, that only goes to further highlight the poignancy of Soraya’s final words “How could you do this to anyone?”
All this may lead you to think that the full film is too much to bear, and will leave you feeling depressed or leaden with the weight of this desperate situation. That is not in any way the case. Nowrasteh has produced a riveting drama that has moments of great beauty and sensitivity, and the moral outrage it provokes is nothing less than inspiring. Having watched and respected several serious and worthy films that highlight great injustice and terrible cruelty, I have found that many wallow in the darkness of the subject matter, which as an audience member makes one feel morally obliged to say how moving it was, whilst secretly wishing to have never spent two hours in such miserable company.
The Stoning of Soraya M, however, is compellingly watchable and gripping. Every character, every performance and every scene has, at its heart, facets of humanity that are shared by us all (whether we like it or not). Films examine human behaviour endlessly, and there can be no more dramatic or emotional examination than this.
Despite the extreme horror of the stoning sequence, and the fears of several countries who are yet to even distribute the film, there has been little or no outrage to it – and why? Because this film does not preach to the audience; it does not concern itself with judging religion or culture, but with compassion for human beings, and respect for the truth above all.
I can only urge you to seek this film out and watch it with as many people as you can bring together, so that they may also recommend it to all they know. With the plight of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani still regularly in the news as her father campaigns to save her from this same terrible fate, Cyrus Nowrasteh’s film of Soraya M’s true story may even go some way to doing what only the most rare and precious films can ever dream of – not just entertaining; not just informing; but of changing lives.