In 1986, French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam (Caviezel) is driving through Iran when his car breaks down in an isolated village. Called "crazy" by the men, Zahra (Aghdashloo) corners him and recounts the brutal events of the preceding day. Defenceless in a society ruled by Sharia law, Zahra's niece Soraya (Marno) was the subject of a conspiracy led by her husband (Negahban), who wanted to marry a 14-year-old. To do this he had to gain the support of the local convict-turned-mullah (Pourtash) and the weak-willed mayor (Diaan).
The series of events is deeply unsettling as it vividly portrays an entire social system designed to control women, down to the fact that women always have the burden of proof in an adultery case, whether it's against her or her husband. Not only does this infuse society with flagrant injustice, but it allows men to give in to their darkest impulses, abusing power shamelessly and indulging sometimes gleefully in unspeakable cruelty.
The problem with the movie is that the story and themes are so potent that the filmmakers forget to include shadings that might make it more trustworthy.
There isn't a single man in this village with enough backbone to stand up to the obvious evil. And every male character is a type: either a nasty thug, a manipulative control-freak or a weak-willed nice guy manipulated into participating in something wrong. For all the deeply felt religious fervour, no one stands up for what's right.
Except of course Zahra, and no one listens to her. Aghdashloo gives a strong central performance, vividly making us feel the oppression of the law, the men and even the clothing. Zahra seems like the only person who sees what's really going on, which is probably accurate since she's also the one who got the story out. But it's Marno's heart-wrenching performance as Soraya that engages us with the events and delivers the potent emotional resonance. And it's the raw power of Soraya's story that makes this film so vitally important.
Run time: 114 mins
In Theaters: Friday 9th October 2009
Box Office USA: $0.5M
Distributed by: Roadside Attractions
Production compaines: Mpower Pictures, Roadside Attractions, Prime Meridian Pctures, Fallen Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 57%
Fresh: 47 Rotten: 36
IMDB: 8.0 / 10
Director: Cyrus Nowrasteh
Screenwriter: Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh, Cyrus Nowrasteh
Starring: Shohreh Aghdashloo as Zahra, Mozhan Marnò as Soraya M., Jim Caviezel as Freidoune, Navid Negahban as Ali, Ali Pourtash as Mullah, David Diaan as Ebrahim, Parviz Sayyad as Hashem, Vida Ghahremani as Bita, Vachik Mangassarian as Soraya's Father, Maggie Parto as Vo, Prasanna Puwanarajah as Revolutionary Guard, Bita Sheibani as Leila, Yousef Shweihat as Ringmaster