The 2010 Oscar ceremonies have come and gone without a word spoken about “The Stoning of Soraya M
.” The searing drama, based on true events, follows the torture of an innocent Iranian woman charged with adultery. It’s the kind of message movie Hollywood doesn’t much care for, stories showcasing horrors that can’t be directly blamed on western culture.
But the drama, released today on DVD and Blu-ray
, deserved a smattering of Oscar buzz all the same. What other movies bring the issue of Sharia law to light in such fashion? More importantly, why didn‘t Shohreh Aghdashloo’s blistering performance earn her a place in the Best Actress category?
“Stoning,” directed and co-written by “The Path to 9/11” screenwriter Cyrus Nowrasteh, takes us to a remote Iranian village under the thumb of Sharia law. Young, attractive Soraya (Mozhan Marno) is raising four children with little help from her husband, Ali (Navid Negahban). When Ali decides he’d rather be married to a 14-year-old Iranian girl, he tries to pressure Soraya into granting him a divorce.
When she refuses, Ali accuses her of sleeping with a villager for whom she provides housekeeping duties.
She’s clearly innocent, but Ali is able to muster enough manufactured evidence to reinforce his case. What follows is a harrowing march to the titular stoning, an unblinking vision of a culture which subjugates women and human decency.
What sets “Stoning” apart is the detail Nowrashteh brings to the narrative. The villagers aren’t caricatures save for the villainous Ali, and we get to see the smaller moments of the village come alive.
The stoning itself is a horror movie more frightening than “Saw” or “Hostel.” It’s difficult to watch, but the director clearly wants people to understand the ramifications of cultural rot.
The film's framing device delivers some clunky exchanges, but the sheer power of "The Stoning of Soraya M." cannot be denied.
The Blu-ray extras include a three-part documentary detailing how “Stoning” came to be. The featurette could use some editing, but it’s noteworthy for showing a film director lose his cool on the set. Most DVD extras are simply glib shout-outs to the product in question.
The extras also detail the balancing act the crew accomplished in dealing with untrained movie extras and physical hardships which made each day of shooting a struggle.
Nowrasteh, an Iranian-American himself, says he insisted on casting Iranian actors in the main roles as a way to honor the country.
The modestly budgeted film suffered from on-set language barriers, a remote location with limited transportation access and having to stop production five times a day to allow for prayers.
“The surrounding craziness helped the movie,” Nowrasteh says. “It gave an air of reality to everything. This was not make believe.”
Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh, the director’s wife and “Stoning’s” co-screenwriter, says the film was meant to honor real women, like Soraya, who suffer at the hands of cruel cultural traditions.
“We’re trying to illuminate something that isn’t talked about enough,“ she says.