ON A DUSTY Iranian highway in 1986, a French-Iranian journalist’s car broke down near a remote village. By the time he left, the horrendous story of a conspiratorial stoning was recorded on a tape in his pocket, and he became the vehicle for the victim’s voice through his eventual novel, The Stoning of Soraya M. The true story of a young woman unjustly accused of infidelity, Freidoune Sahebjam’s book exposed the practice of stoning and the lack of women’s rights in Iran—simultaneously becoming an international best-seller and banned in Iran.
When filmmaker Cyrus Nowrasteh read the book in 1994, the injustice captured his conscience and filmmaker’s sensibility. His movie, also titled The Stoning of Soraya M., looks to be following a similar path to the book—it was the runner-up for the Audience Choice Award at its Toronto International Film Festival debut, and, Nowrasteh says, is already banned in Iran.
The beat-up car of Sahebjam (played by The Passion of the Christ’s Jim Caviezel) sputters to the side of a mountainous highway as the film opens. Below him, a shrouded woman scoops a few stray remains out of the sand and rinses them in the river before burying them. They are all that is left of her niece, Soraya, stoned the day before in the village square. When Zahra (played by Shohreh Aghdashloo) learns that the stranded stranger is a journalist, she convinces him to listen to her story while his car is repaired. “What happened here yesterday was wrong,” she begins. “Start your machine. Voices of women do not matter here. I want you to take my voice with you.”