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"The Stoning of Soraya M" Is "Lurid Torture-Porn"

Liberal movie critic Stephen Holden doesn't like a movie about the horrible fate of a women in Iran: "Mr. Negahban's Ali, who resembles a younger, bearded Philip Roth, suggests an Islamic fundamentalist equivalent of a Nazi anti-Semitic caricature."

Leave it to Times liberal movie critic Stephen Holden to come down on "The Stoning of Soraya M," for stereotyping a couple of murderous, misogynist Islamists as...murderous misogynist Islamists.



Holden generally likes politically activist movies, especially Marxist documentaries that take aim atpolitically correcttargets like big business and heartland hicks. By contrast, he's not fond of Israel or the Catholic Church, or evidently, movies about injustices committed against women in the Muslim world, like "The Stoning of Soraya M." Conservatives have embraced the movie, which might also provide a clue as to why Holden hates it. In calling it "lurid torture-porn," Holden echoes columnist Frank Rich's smear against "The Passion of the Christ" as "a joyride for sadomasochists."


"The Stoning of Soraya M.,"a true story of religiously sanctioned misogyny and mob violence in an Iranian village, thoroughly blurs the line between high-minded outrage and lurid torture-porn.


Not since"The Passion of the Christ"has a film depicted a public execution in such graphic detail. In the approximately 20 minutes during which the killing unfolds, the camera repeatedly returns to study the battered face and body of the title character (Mozhan Marno) as she is stoned to death. Buried up to her waist in a hole dug for the occasion, she is pelted with rocks and profanity by the male villagers, including her father, husband and two sons, until she dies.


The condemned woman is innocent of the charge of adultery brought against her by her sadistic husband, Ali (Navid Negahban), who wants to get rid of her so he can marry a 14-year-old girl. According to ancient Islamic law, a wife's adultery is punishable by death. Ali pressures the corrupt local bigwigs to prosecute her based on the rumors he ignited and false evidence they coerce from a widower for whom she has worked as a housekeeper.


Holden found the movie didactic - fair criticism, but one he usually fails to apply to movies whose message he approves of.


Almost everything is either-or. Soraya is a beautiful martyred innocent and Zahra a stormy feminist prophet. With the exception of the mayor (David Diaan), who has qualms about the execution, and [Jim] Caviezel's reporter, who appears only briefly at the beginning and end of the movie, the men are fiendishly villainous.


Mr. Negahban's Ali, who resembles a younger, beardedPhilip Roth, suggests an Islamic fundamentalist equivalent of a Nazi anti-Semitic caricature. With his malevolent smirk and eyes aflame with arrogance and hatred, he is as satanic as any horror-movie apparition. The fraudulent local mullah, who collaborates in his scheme after being rejected by Soraya, might as well be carrying a pitchfork and breathing fire.


At the end Holden acknowledged the movie's "crude power" and compared it (not in a complimentary way) to "The Passion of the Christ" (which featured "Soraya" actor Jim Caviezel as Jesus Christ), saying that in both movies, "the stimulation of blood lust in the guise of moral righteousness has its appeal."


Holden, who is perhaps the most liberal Times movie critic (though A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis are certainly worthy competitors) has a strange compulsion to stand up for horrible acts by people of different ethnicities. His August 2005 review of the World War II movie "The Great Raid" actually chided the filmmakers for stereotyping of Japanese soldiers as being sadistic to U.S. troops, despite it being, well, true:



Its scenes of torture and murder also unapologetically revive the uncomfortable stereotype of the Japanese soldier as a sadistic, slant-eyed fiend.