Director Cyrus Nowrasteh has news for people who think the public execution scene at the heart of “The Stoning of Soraya M.” is too long, too graphic or too uncompromising in its horror. The real thing is worse. Much worse.
Nowrasteh’s “Stoning,” which debuts in select cities June 26, tells the true story of an Iranian woman accused of adultery by her narcissistic husband and subsequently stoned, per Sharia law, for her crime. The film, based on the book by journalist Freidoune Sahebjam, reveals its critical sequence via the title. But audiences will still recoil at the monstrous behavior on display.
“I want people never to forget what a stoning is,” Nowrasteh says. “I’ve seen it on tape, and it’s much worse.”
Nowrasteh, who wrote the ABC miniseries “The Path to 9/11,” read Sahebjam’s book back in 1994 but figured no one would green light a film based on the harrowing true story. The story stuck with him all the same, and years later he and his wife, screenwriter Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh, decided to try to make such a movie themselves. Wresting the legal rights to the book took time, but they had very little competition, he says. Only two Italian directors flirted with the notion of making the book into a movie, as did, briefly, director Costa-Gavras (“Missing”).
Standout Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdasloo (“The House of Sand and Fog”) signed on after reading the Nowrastehs’ script, and some of the director’s past connections helped flesh out the funding. Nowrasteh promised the book’s author to use Iranian actors and have them speak Farsi in the film which came in under $4 million. He also had no intentions of sugar coating the main story. The biggest change from the book came with the supporting characters, who display a complex range of emotions regarding the stoning – even those who take part in the atrocity.
“If you read the book you would see just how far I went in the writing the script,” he says, adding even the selfish husband who accuses his wife of adultery is given flashes of humanity. “In the book there was no shading.”
Tomorrow: Nowrasteh shares how a “user friendly” version of the stoning scene fared with test audiences and his frustration that “The Path to 9/11” remains unavailable on DVD.