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Nowrasteh's 'Stoning': A Horror All Too True To Life

The harrowing climax in the new film The Stoning of Soraya M. depicts a woman being brutally stoned to death after she's falsely accused of marital infidelity.

Director Cyrus Nowrasteh and actress Shohreh Aghdashloo — who plays heroine Zahra, the aunt of the woman killed — tell NPR's David Greene that the scene is true to life.

"I wanted people to never forget what a stoning really is," Nowrasteh says. "I tried to search out stonings in other movies, and they're all like, one rock gets thrown and the person keels over."

This is certainly not the case in Nowrasteh's death scene, which took six days to shoot.

"I believe it was in the fourth or fifth day," Aghdashloo says. "I was sitting on the ground, waiting for the next shot to come, and I opened my eyes for one second, and all I could see were dust, angry feet pounding the ground, angry fists in the air, and all I could hear was shouting. ... For one second, I really had a hard time to tell the difference between reality and cinema."

The brutal scene has a beautiful side as well, Nowrasteh says. It turns the murder into "a kind of triumph, because [Zahra] recognizes the importance of the story getting out, [of] the world knowing what happened here, so that this woman's death was not in vain."

The film is based on the true story of an Iranian woman stoned by her neighbors after refusing to give her husband a divorce. The film is modeled after the 1994 book by French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam.

Aghdashloo — the first Oscar-nominated Iranian actress, for her work in House of Sand and Fog — says it's vaguely known that after the real Soraya's death, her husband took their four children to the city.

"I'm very much hopeful that by the time this film is shown officially in the U.S. and Europe, hopefully the Middle East, the sons and daughters will ... step forward and tell us about Soraya and their family, and how they've been living," she says.

Nowrasteh tells Greene he hopes to raise awareness about the brutal death penalty, which is still technically legal in Iran. Though stonings aren't very common, he says, they do happen.

"Our feeling is that one is too many," Nowrasteh says.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.