Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Stoning of Soraya M. - Simply Stunning

The Stoning of Soraya M.
Director: Cyrus Nowrasteh

Staring: Shohreh Aghdashloo, James Caviezel

My first thoughts after seeing this movie. Amazing, moving and utterly horrible. From the producer of the Passion of the Christ - this movie transports you to this tragic moment.

In Southwestern Iran, roughly thirty-five miles outside of the city of Kerman, lies the small village of Kupayeh. In 1986, French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam (played by James Caviezel) found himself stranded in this small mountain town. After walking a ways he finds an old man and basically forces him to fix his car. Everyone seems to be doing everything they can do get him, this foreigner that looks unlike them, to leave as quickly as he came.

Zahra, (Played flawlessly by Shohreh Aghdashloo) who feverishly relates a terrifying village conspiracy involving blackmail, misogyny, and murder. Zahra tells the journalist that she, as a woman in Iran, no longer has a voice and she pleads with him to "take her voice" and tell the world her story.

Zahra is the aunt of Soraya - a young beautiful iranian wife and mother of 4. We find Soraya struggling with a cheating and abusive husband - however because of the religious laws and culture, she was in trouble with the local mullas for not 'LAYING" with her husband.

Mozhan Marno plays Soraya. She portrays such an amazing balance of strength, silence and forced obedience. Mozhan was Soraya and made her so believable. Her horribly evil and decietful husband, Ali was played by Navid Negahban. His performance was chilling. I was scared of him. Honestly I was almost afraid of every man in this film.

The fact that this movie was a TRUE STORY and a COMMON PRACTICE made it that much more heartbreaking. I found myself weeping but not being able to tear my eyes away from the screen.

However, the women in this movie truly were its strength. The powerhouses that were the women during this era in Iran - but at the same time how submissive they had to be. It was a strange dichotomy to watch unfold but also such an admiring thing to witness. These women had their local faith leaders, their husbands, the laws of the land and every other man in their village, against them. "Here a woman must prove her innocence and a man must prove his guilt". That pretty much outlined the entire movie plot. The strength in their eyes, in their tears and in their jaws was mesmerizing. Shohreh was paralyzing in some scenes where she was reprimanding local men for their action, knowing full well her actions were punishable.

So the end of the movie isnt a secret -- its in the title. You know its coming and that it will happen. So I am not ruining anything. What was shocking was HOW it happened and how they played out the moments before and after - that will not ruin. It is done in a way that takes your breath away and may be too visceral for some. You spend half the movie learning Soraya's story and know the moment is coming - however knowing the injustice makes the moment that much more horrible to experience.

For me the REASON she was stoned was so hard to swallow. The injustices against women in that part of the world - even to this day - are hard to believe when you live in America.

I am one of those liberal women who still think women have far to go to be equal in America - but when I see a movie like this, it really gives me some perspective and even if just for a few moments, makes me appreciative of our government, our laws and our freedom.

I have many Persian friends, and the one part of the movie I enjoyed was the Farsi and subtitled and then the small amounts of English that were thrown in. The translation from Farsi to English is humorous at times - words and phrases that are horrible in Farsi arent so horrible in English ("poison of snake") etc.

This movie is a must see for all adults - no children under 15 should see this, in my opinion - the stoning scene is very graphic and emotionally difficult.

Rating: *****

Available on Netflixs instant play now

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ghetto Ballet - a touching story that still shows the brutal side of the dance world

Directed by: Jeremy Simmons
HBO Documentary

The movie takes place in a small township outside of Capetown, South Africa. Labeled as one of the poorest townships in the area - the movie focuses on a handful of youth, trying to break out of township.

A program called DANCE FOR ALL - was started in Cape Town (a bus ride away) and these teens saw it as their ticket out. Dance for All was created in 1991 by white ballet dancer and teacher, Philip Boyd. Boyd wanted to bring change to the segregated ballet culture and to this day teaches 1000 youth from the townships that would not otherwise be able to have the opportunity to take a dance class.
Now you can imagine this program would be overrun with kids if it was just open classes. Once a year they have auditions, to find youth that have rare and raw talent that they can work with. After one year of training, they will have exams and have a chance to be invited to the Youth Company connected to the school and is the stepping stone to a professional company.

This story spotlights on Simbalke, Vuyelwa, Tusili, and Fiona. The film touchingly follows their daily life, where ballet, dancing and a dream of being a ballerina, is the farthest from reality, but that somehow this dream helps them get through their days. We watch their training process and their diet control, which was an interesting part of the story-line. Many of the families don't have a healthy diet because of money - watching the kids try to become healthy eaters with the little they have, it difficult but inspiring.

Without ruining the story - I can tell you the anticipation of the exams and results is almost maddening! A few kids almost become sick - just lamenting, explaining that if they doesn't happen for them, they don't know what they will do. Then I realized that the "cut throat" ballet world was still existent in this movie, and it made me sad. The odds for the average youth in dance to "make it big" is slim to none. The odds for these kids are even less.

At this point the movie started to make me feel a bit sick. I just didn't think it was fair giving the kids a false hope that had little to no benefit for their future.

Then there was the exam scene. I watched Vuyelwa dance and heard her explain how she felt when she danced and realized - anything is possible. Surprisingly during the movie, one of the youth gets pulled out and offered a job with the Cape Town ballet, then BAM, professional career. On the other hand, another one of the youths parents don't like how much time she is spending dancing, they need her help at home, so she quits. One is accepted into the youth ballet, and one is rejected. The rejection was so hard to watch.

The dancing scenes and interviews were done beautifully. Overall the story is touching and inspiring. A great movie for anyone in the dance world or with appreciation for it.

Rating: ****