The Stoning of Soraya M. (2008)

 

 

 

Director:     Cyrus Nowrasteh. 

Starring:     Shohreh Aghdashloo (Zahra),  Mozhan Marn (Soraya M.),   James Caviezel (Freidoune Sahebjam),   Navid Negahban (Ali),   Ali Pourtash (Mullah),   David Diaan (Ebrahim),  Parviz Sayyad (Hashem),   Vida Ghahremani (Mrs. Massoud),  Vachik Mangassarian (Morteza Ramazani - Soraya's Father),  Bita Sheibani (Leila),   Noor Al Taher (Kataneh),  Haya Al Taher (Malaka),   Khalid Khan (Warden),  Sheede Dana (Second Woman),  Fay Yan (Bita).

1986, married woman falsely accused of adultery by her husband with the punishment being stoning to death. 

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Based on a true story.  The sun is rising.  A woman in a black head-to-foot gown walks in a still sleeping village.  A journalist, Freidoune Sahebjam, is driving a car and it overheats. 

The woman throws a stone at a dog to get it away from what looks like the remains of someone or something.  The woman looks very sad.  Her name is Zahra. 

The man sits in his car listening to the radio:  ". . . since the fall of the cursed Shah, there's been radical change and improvement in Iran."  The fellow shuts off the radio.   

The woman washes the few bones in the stream. 

The fellow stops a bus on the road to ask for help. 

The woman buries the bones.  The bus pulling the car behind it comes around the corner past the woman who has now finished burying the bones.

Kupayeh, Iran (not a real place). The journalist gets off the bus and asks an Iranian named Hashem to look at his car.  The guy says the car just overheated, the roads are rough on the cars.  Our fellow tells the guy that he wants to make the border before nightfall.  The guy says he's tired and doesn't want to work today, but the man offers him extra money, so the guy says he will fix the car.  The sad woman comes up to the journalist and says she speaks English.  She says there a things that go on in this village and they shouldn't be able to get away with it.  Two men, the mayor and the mullah, come over and tell the men not to listen to the woman because she's old and insane.  They call her a worthless woman and tell her to get out of their sight.  Zahra leaves. 

One of the men is the mayor and the other is Sheik Hassam, their mullah.  The mayor says they would like to share their breakfast with the jornalist.  The men seem suspicious of the stranger and want to know what he does and where is he from.  The man says he lives in France.  The journalist refuses to eat breakfast with them saying he is busy.  He sits in a cafe by himself writing something in a notebook.  Zahra comes looking for him. She throw a piece of aluminum foil to him with a piece of paper inside.  Inside is a map of the small town and a piece of clothing.  The journalist follows the map over to the woman's place.  She signals him to come into her courtyard.  With her are two young girls who are very afraid of the stranger.  She tries to calm them by telling them he is a guest.   She sends them inside the house.  The journalist asks if the kids are hers and she says they are the daughters of her niece.

The writer asks Zoarh if she is crazy?  She tells him that he will sit and she will tell him a story and then he can determine who is crazy:  she or them? 

She says what happened here in this town yesterday was just wrong.   She says the devil himself visited the town.  Zarah tells him to start the tape recorder because here her voice doesn't matter and that's why she wants him to take her voice with him.  The journalist is still not convinced that this is a legitimate story, but Zarah tells him to listen to her story and then he will know why it is an important story.  She begins:  "There are men in this town who are wild dogs.  Their hunt began not long ago with Soraya's husband Ali."

Flashback.  Ali talks with Sheik Hassam.  He says he wants the Sheik to talk to his wife to get her to agree to a divorce.  And he warns the Sheik that if doesn't do as he wants, he will expose his secret that he is not a real mullah.  He remembers the man in jail when he was a guard there.  They let him go along with a lot of others imprisoned under the Shah. 

So the mullah comes to see Soraya, the wife.  He tells her that Ali has a number of complaints about her, that she does not speak to him and neglects him.  In fact, he says she has abandoned him.   The mullah says her husband has all the rights in the marriage and she none.  Soraya says that her husband has turned her sons against her.  Hassam  says her husband wants to marry another woman, but he can't support two wives.  He will give her the house, the furniture, the girls and a little field to grow things in.  Soraya says that that little rocky field can not possibly support her and the girls.  He adds that he personally will take care of her and the girls, honorably, of course. 

Zahra has been listening in on the conversation.  Now she comes forward and tells the mullah to get out.  She says that the only thing pure about him is his lust for women.  He warns both women that they will regret their harsh words to him.  He leaves.

Zahra asks if Ali is still seeing prostitutes?    She also asks if Soraya gives her husband sex, because the rumor is that she does not.  Soraya shows her the bruises on her body given to her by her husband.  Zahra tells her to give him the divorce, but Soraya says no because she will not become a temporary wife (a sigheh) to Hassam so her children won't starve.  The girl Ali likes who lives in the city is Mehri and she is only 14 years of age.  Her father was in the prison to be hanged, but he made a deal with Ali that he could have his daughter if Ali would help him out with his case.  Zahra says that they must be very careful because this has obviously been planned out by Ali and the Mullah. 

Ali comes home for dinner,  but tells his wife that she has made him a laughing stock of him before the mullah and the whole village.  She has shamed him.  He complains about this to his two sons.  The sons say they want to go to the city with their father, who tells them they have no future in the little village.  Soraya talks back to him about him not performing his duties as a father and a husband.  She says his mullah propositioned her as if she were a whore.  The older son tells his mother not to talk that way to father. 

Dad tells his son:  "This is a man's world.  Never forget that, boys."  Soraya is taking her two girls out of the house when Ali slaps her on the head.  She leaves the house.  Zahra tells Soraya that she will go speak to Mayor Ebrahim.  She says the mayor wanted to marry her after her husband had died.  Soraya asks Zahra if they can stay with her, but Zahra tells her that this will only reinforce Ali's complaint about her neglect of him. 

Hashem comes to get Zahra to help him with his sick wife.  She goes.  She sees Ali giving a ride to a woman in his fancy car.  He keeps going around in circles.  When she gets to the sick wife, Zahra finds tat she is already dead.  She tells Hashem that she is sorry, but she has to prepared the body for burial.   

The body is still in the house and the village women are taking things out of there for themselves.  Soraya tells them to put the things back and leave.  She says Hashem may still have need of these things. 

The men tell Zahra they are grateful for her helping out Hashem last evening, but now they want her to help Hashem with his daily duties, including the raising of his young son.  They ask her if Soraya might not help after she finishes with her work at home?  Zahra says cynically, yes the men will just oversee Soraya as she does all the work.  She says Soraya should be paid a fee.  The men say that would be all right.  Then Zahra says that the money will be all Soraya's, no one else's.  Speaking to Ali she adds;  "Not for food, not for gasoline, not for your women."    Ali says:  "You have a big mouth, hag."  Zahra fires back with:  "All the better to hit, I suppose."  The mayor warns her to soften her tongue for the Shah is no longer here to protect her.  Zahra says:  "How I know it!" 

Soraya will work for Hashem and what evil is Ali planning for her?  He keeps an eye on Hashem's house.  Soraya gives her money to Zahra to hide.  And now Ali starts telling the mullah that something is going on between Hashem and Soraya.  The mullah says Soraya is not the type.  Ali asks what doe he know about it?  The mullah says that adultery is punishable by stoning -- is that what Ali wants for Soraya?  Hassam says that Soraya is earning money now and soon she will give him his divorce, but Ali says he can't wait.  He says they will start the rumor mill going and then Ali and someone else will be witnesses against Soraya. 

Soraya stopped a woman named Leila from taking Hashem's sewing machine.  Now the woman seems to want to get even with her by spreading evil gossip about Soraya. She says that Soraya rejects Ali sexually.  She asks why else would Ali be going around with other women?  Zahra says because he is a dishonorable man. 

Hashem comes home early one day.  He asks Soraya to stay and eat with him because sometimes he gets very lonely.  She says his son will be up soon to eat with him.  She returns home.

Zhara listens in as Ali and the mullah try to frame Soraya for adultery.  The mayor tells them to go get him the evidence rather than just gossip and hearsay.  Zahra confronts the mayor saying she knows that  he, Ali and the mullah are cooking up some plot against Soraya.  He tells her that they were just wondering why Soraya spends so much time over at Hashem's place.  Zahra slaps him for this remark.  She says how disappointed she is with him.  He has become a slave, a sigheh!  A temporary wife to a monster! 

Zahra tells Soraya that there is a plot against her.  Soraya just says:  "I'm just an inconvenient wife. Hardly worth a plot."  Zahra tell Soraya that she has to quit her job, but Soraya says that job is her only hope.  Zahra says these men can hurt her.  Soraya denies that there is a plot, saying " . . . there's just one Auntie with too much imagination."

Ali and the mullah speak with Hashem.  The mullah says that Ali is suspicious of his wife coming and going from his house.  Ali asks Hashem if his wife sleeps over at his place?  No.  Does she lie down?  They try to bully Hashem into giving damaging testimony about Soraya, but Hashem is smart enough to get away from these two dastardly men. 

Ali and the mullah come over to Hashem and tell him they need two witnesses against Soraya.  They already have one witness.  They ask if his mentally challenged boy Moshen could be a second witness against Soraya?  Hashem tells them to leave his son out of this but Ali says they can't.  Now they threaten Hashem with being an accomplice to the adultery and he might be stoned along with Soraya.  They now work on the boy asking him if Soraya touches him inappropriately? Hashem asks the two men why are they doing this evil thing?  God is watching.  Ali keeps working on Hashem getting him afraid of what he and the mullah are capable of  doing to him to mess up his life.  He puts ideas into Hashem's head.  Hashem asks God to forgive him. 

Now Ali starts hitting Soraya in public saying that she is a whore.  He says she has disgraced him.  He hits her in the face, kicks her, shoves her down.  He says she has slept with Hashem.  Zahra tries to interfere, but Ali denounces her now.  She takes Soraya to her house.  Ali is there and the mayor arrives.  Ali says that his wife touched the hand of Hashem tenderly and they were whispering things close to each other.  Ali brings Hashem in now and he asks him what happened?  Hashem lies and says that Soraya came to lay down on his bed.  She asks Hashem why he does this to her?  Hashem doesn't answer her.   

The mayor says two men are accusing her of adultery.  Can she prove her innocence?  That is the law.  Zahra tells the mayor that he knows this is all about the girl that Ali wants to marry.  Of course, the mayor denies that.    And now, of course, the village men are all riled up.  The men are going to have a meeting about the case.  Four women come over to Zahra's house.  All four are wearing a black chador.  Zahdra asks them why are they doing this?  One of the women says they didn't mean anything by it. 

The men are all excited as the judges come out of their meeting.  She has been found guilty and will be stoned to death.  A young girl runs to Zahra's place with a message. It's a death warrant.  Zahra crumbles it up and gives it back to the girl to take to the mullah.  Zahra tells Soraya that they have to get out of here, because in one hour she will be stoned to death.  Guards, however, are all around the house and they are stopped.  Soraya says that Ali has gotten rid of her.  Soraya starts preparing for her execution.  She wants to say goodbye to her girls.  Little boys grab small stones  to be used for the stoning. 

Zahra assures Soraya that she will tell literally everyone --  she will tell the whole world the truth.  She asks Soraya if she's frightened of death?  Soraya says she is just afraid of the stones and the pain.  Her two sons comes in. The younger wants to know why she has to die and the older is convinced that his mother is an adulteress.  Soraya cries over the rejection by her elder son.  And , of course, the mob is filled with righteous indignation and can't wait for her execution.  A carnival act arrives and they start their sales pitch and their celebration.  They have to be told that the village is busy here.

The mayor asks Soraya for her last words.  She says:  "How can you do this?  It seems you don't know me.  I am Soraya.  I've been in your homes.  . . . How can you do this to me?   I am your neighbor, your mother, your wife.  How can you do this to anybody?"   They tie her hands behinds her back;  walk her over to the hole dug for her; place her in it and then bury her up to her waist in dirt.   They ask Soraya's father if he has anything to say and he says that she is no longer his daughter and he is no longer her father.  The ex-dad gets to throw the first stone.  Zahra tells them not to do it.  She asks for mercy from the crowd, but there is none coming from this crowd of bigoted and prejudiced men committing an offense against God.

Dad throws stones, but has to throw harder to hit her.   He calls his daughter a whore.  Ali says that's okay, he will do it for him.  Zahra shouts that the men are murderers and is pushed back.  Ali hits her a couple of good shots in the head and blood starts flowing.  Soraya starts crying.  Now the Mullah throws stones.  This "religious man" gets the crowd all worked up.  Now the boys have to stone their mother.  The younger boy cries. They throw stones and hit her twice.  Zahra cries all alone.  Now it's Hashem's turn to throw a stone.  The righteous men cry:  "Hit her!"  Hashem can't do it.  But now all the righteous men grab stones and start throwing them at Soraya.  One connects with a good throw and the men give him a big hurrah for his brave deed!   Some of the women throw up watching the sight.  Soraya's once white gown is now all red with her blood. 

Ali now goes to check to see if she is still alive or not.  She is still alive, so the men grab more stones and heroically throw them at the "wicked" woman.  Finally, they figure she is dead and they all leave, proud of the manly duty they did in the name of an all merciful God.  The older boy now cries.  The carnival people place a blanket over the dead body of Soraya. 

They refused to let the women bury Soraya, so they took her body down and left it by the river.  In the town they were celebrating that night. 

Back to the present.  Zahra says that was yesterday.  In the morning she went back to the river and buried what the dogs had left of her.  Hashem comes over to tell the journalist that his car is ready for him.  He sees the tape recorder on the table in front of Zahra.  The mullah wants the journalist arrested. 

Ali comes driving up in his fancy convertible.  They ask him what about his wedding?  He says the father was executed and the wedding is therefore canceled.  He says:  "I wanted her so badly."  He takes off.  And now Hashem lets it all out about them framing him to get him to testify against Soraya.  The mayor gives the mullah a nasty look, but the mullah says he was as much of a part of this as anyone and everyone else.  He says that's why they must stop the journalist. 

The mullah now stops the journalist from leaving by having one of his thugs holding an automatic weapon pointed at the reporter.  They grab his tape recorder and destroy all his tapes.  But as he goes out of town, Zahra gives him the copy of the tape and he gets the helll out of there.

Zahra says to her fellow stand-up citizens:  "What are you afraid of?  Justice was served, wasn't it?  The God that I love is great.  Wasn't our village going to be an example for the rest of the country?  Now the whole world will know.  Yes! The world will know what happened here!"  She holds her arms upward towards the sky saying:  "The world will know!!"

"When French-Iranian journalist, Freidoune Sahebjam, published The Stoning of Soraya M., it became an international bestseller, focusing attention on the practice of stoning in Iran, as well as the lack of women's rights there.  Despite official denials, untold numbers of people, mostly women, continue to be put to death by stoning in many countries around the world."

 

 

Yeah, the world knows now and it sure was and is disgusting!  To think that a man could frame a woman on little or no evidence and then have her wrongly executed seems like something out of the stone age or the Medieval Times.  But no, it goes on in a lot of countries, some with religions held to be world religions.  Human beings do not condemn in their holy books these kinds of crimes against humanity.  I like to refer to these as primitive religions, because they don't condemn the various types of hate crimes based on religion, creed, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and sex.  The religions don't really recognize hate crimes. Indeed, for most of human existence, they have condoned these very hate crimes.  Look at the southern preachers and the condoning of lynching black people which existed for centuries.  No, man's religions are too easy on human beings and encourage them to commit hate crimes and in that sense, all these so-called good religions, are still just plain cruel and primitive.  And what hasn't man done to his fellow man in the name of religion? 

I like religion, but I want it to be a just religion with a just God who doesn't condone hate crimes of any sort!

I think Shohreh Aghdashloo (as Zahra) was just great.  Navid Negahban (as Ali) made one just one want to slap him across the face, so he did a good job at being bad.  A terrible film to have to watch but a beautiful film nonetheless.  And thanks to films like these we can see all these various injustices man has done to his fellow man.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

 

 

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