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The Stoning of Soraya M.
Time Out New York Project: Issue #717, June 25-July 1, 2009
Dir. Cyrus Nowrasteh. 2008. R. 116mins. Shohreh Aghdashloo, Mozhan Marnò, James Caviezel.
The title invites all measure of “half-baked” jest, but after witnessing the horrifying case of Soraya Manutchehri (Marnò), any guffaws are likely to stick in the throat. An Iranian housewife falsely accused of adultery, Manutchehri was stoned to death in her rural village in 1986. French-Iranian writer Freidoune Sahebjam—played here, in an awkward framing device, by Christ on the cross James Caviezel—got ahold of the story and turned it into a best-selling expos. This film adaptation is a well-made bit of prestigery, one that benefits from the performances of Shohreh Aghdashloo as Soraya’s aunt Zahra, who tells the tale in flashback, and Marnò, who lends her character an intense, haunted dignity.
Yet The Stoning of Soraya M. goes off the rails long before the Karo syrup starts gushing Monty Python–style. It’s a big ol’ wallow in unpleasantness, a film that relies on simplistically patriarchal antagonists and vague, wet-willie cries for intervention. Similarly, Caviezel’s “man of action!” heroics make for an ill fit with Aghdashloo’s abrasively solemn remembrances. The latter unfortunately call to mind Roger Ebert’s complaint about Jaws the Revenge, namely that a film’s heroine could not possibly be “haunted by flashbacks to events where she was not present.” Guess the writers’ room had a bit too much Mary Jane on hand. (Opens Fri; Landmark Sunshine.)—Keith Uhlich