James Caviezal (The Passion of the Christ) plays a French-Iranian journalist named Freidoune Sahebjam whose car breaks down in a 1986 Iranian town. While his car gets repaired, a woman named Zahra, played by Oscar-nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo, approaches him. Zahra tells the journalist of a murder that occurred recently in the town. Now, what's shocking is that the murder wasn't committed by simply one or two people. What's shocking is that it's committed by every single man in that town, and not just the men but even the children. Zahra witnessed an entire town, a crazed mob basically, murder one defenseless woman.
The woman who was murdered was Zahra's niece named Soraya. Zahra meets with Sahebjam secretly and tells him the events that led to Soraya's death. This town in Iran is comprised of mostly Shiite Muslims and in their religion and culture they believe in something called honor killings. Honor killings are basically religiously-sanctioned murders.
One would think that if their religion sanctions it, then it must be for horrible crimes like child rape or something, but in actuality the crimes are or can be rather innocuous. In most civilized societies, there needs to be convincing and air-tight evidence, but, in Iran, the evidence can be scant, hearsay, totally shaky and unreliable. The obvious result is that people can use these honor killings for dishonorable reasons.
People can lie, accuse people of crimes that they didn't commit or of crimes they certainly aren't worthy of death. It's a modern-day version of The Scarlet Letter only far more tragic. All of the events take place in the wake of the fall of the Shah, the King of Persia. The Shah was a progressive ruler, and gave women in Iran equal rights or at least a lot of similar freedoms as in non-Muslim countries. When the Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah in 1979, a lot of those rights and freedoms went away. The Ayatollah and his followers were strict, religious conservatives and didn't like the Shah's progress, meaning they didn't like that women were seen as anything other than possessions.
Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog) plays Zahra, an older woman who understands this and conforms to the restrictions. She's a strong and fierce woman, but she conforms to the rules and tries like many of the older women not to rock the boat. Her niece Soraya is a different story. Soraya rebels against the restrictions. Women are completely subservient and at the mercy of men, and Soraya in particular is at the mercy of a ruthless and misogynistic man.
Yet, after abusing her, Soraya's husband wants a divorce, so he can marry a teenage girl. Soraya knows that divorce means death for a woman in her culture. She'll get nothing. She won't be able to marry again. She'll be an outcast. She'll lose everything, so she rebels. She resists the divorce, which further enrages her husband. Writers Cyrus and Betsy Nowrasteh adapts the screenplay from the real-life Sahebjam's book and captures the frustration and struggles of a woman in this oppressive society. Their words along with the performance of Mozhan Marno who plays Soraya makes the experience enrichly heartfelt.
Five Stars out of Five.
In Farsi With English Subtitles
Rated R for a disturbing scene of cruel and brutal violence.