Saturday, January 12, 2013

REVIEW: The Stoning of Soraya M. - 6/10

2008 - Cyrus Nowrasteh

So, I did a bit more digging on The Stoning of Soraya M. and it’s from the producer of the religious snuff film The Passion of the Christ. With that in mind, it was pretty safe to assume there was going to be some sort of bullshit message told through horrible, gut-wrenching brutality amidst what would ultimately be a horrible, gut-wrenching movie. Honestly, I would have felt better about this film if it were Soraya M.’s first adventure with a big bag of weed.

Perhaps it’s my lack of understanding of the culture, but I can’t feel the kind of outrage about the death of an innocent woman that this movie wants me to because it’s shoved in my face so much that everyone in that part of the world has accepted this kind of situation as the norm. In the case of Soraya M., based on the true story of a woman named Soraya, who is wrongfully accused of adultery so her deadbeat husband can marry a 14-year old without having to support his ex-wife (as the penalty is death by stoning), perhaps I would have felt something if everyone in the village where this took place, with the exception of two people, actually gave a shit that this injustice would cost someone their life. 

As movies about the Middle East are only really believable if they look like the Pre-Gazoo Flintstones era coupled with the same audio three tracks played at different speeds, I can’t really comment on the technical prowess of Soraya M. Not that this is a bad thing and there are some amazing films using the residential (non-military) Middle East as a backdrop (Slumdog Millionaire, Osama), but Soraya M. is all about the message and the travesty of the story. For that, it excels in two big areas: dramatic performances and the most stomach-cringing twenty minute death sequence I’ve ever seen ever. If you’re up for any of those two things, The Stoning of Soraya M. is not going to be a bad watch, but don’t expect to have a hankering for ice cream or anything after it. This movie’s goal is to make you mad.

For me, the problem here is that the message and the travesty of the story grabbed me as a gut-reaction, but as it progressed and I started thinking about it, it started to seem like details of the real story were left out for the sake of dramatic effect and emotional response. The conversations that were had that led to the conviction of adultery by Soraya seemed conveniently lacking of actual fact (ex: she was at another man’s house because she was employed there…conveniently not mentioned). Multiple times did the dialogue in this movie leave me literally screaming at the TV “you can’t be that stupid!” As the situation reached a boiling point, the entire village was clamoring for death so much that I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to be mad at the unfairness shown towards Soraya or if this movie wanted me to react to some perverted bloodlust of Middle Eastern cultures. 

But again, is this the norm? Is that what you’re trying to tell me, movie? If you want me to be pissed off on the basis that the society I grew up in is “better than theirs,” you’re adding fuel to a dangerous fire and as a film-goer, that’s not really something I want cast upon me. 

I tried to be entertained and I wasn’t. I tried to be moved and I wasn’t. Gut reaction, yes…but I’m a bit smarter than a gut reaction and in some Amnesty International, ACLU, Humanitarian cheesy shit move, The Stoning of Soraya M. had the audacity to treat this story like some “the world must know” campaign that’s supposed to infuriate the masses to demand change. I’m on the couch eating potato chips in my underwear here. I’m not really the most credible activist, guys.

I struggle with these movies because all they say is “this sucks, fix it.” I’ve worked in customer support before. It’s a pretty dumb demand. What am I fixing exactly? Injustice towards women? Bloodlust? Evil husbands? A blatant lack of due process? I can’t really respect a movie that builds up to become a two hour long infomercial and that’s kind of what this was. If this was simply telling the story of Soraya and I didn’t know what was going to unfold, I might have liked this better (If you couldn't guess, the title sorta spoils the ending). It would have felt like a STORY.

As it stands though, it was just a weak cry for help with bloody imagery, dumb, frustrating dialogue that knew the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. You make that cringe, his heart will too and apparently that’s going to mean something (see The Passion of the Christ). For me and The Stoning of Soraya M., it means 6 dustbusters out of 10. Please stop doing this.

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