New in Film for Friday, July 10, 2009

Adoration

Atom Egoyan's 12th feature film offers a typically kaleidoscopic rumination on voyeurism, videography, the relative nature of truth, and the aftermath of tragedy. It's closer in form and tone to the Canadian auteur's early work (particularly his 1987 masterpiece Family Viewing) than to his erratic recent literary adaptations (Felicia's Journey, Where the Truth Lies). Egoyan's wife and frequent muse, Arsinée Khanjian, occupies the central role here as a high school French and drama teacher who encourages a bright pupil (Devon Bostick) in an elaborate fabrication. Inspired by a classroom translation of a news article about a Jordanian man who attempted to blow up a commercial airliner with a bomb hidden in his pregnant girlfriend's luggage, the boy claims the story as that of his own deceased parents — a lie that quickly goes viral and takes on even more bizarre dimensions when the teacher (for reasons Egoyan holds close to the vest for most of the running time), disguised in a face-covering burka, pays a house call on her student and his blue-collar uncle (an excellent Scott Speedman). Never short on ambition, Adoration has no lack of interesting things to say or interesting ways to say them, but the longer it runs, the more you feel Egoyan working up a sweat to deploy the same effects — Pinterian abstractions, fractured time lines, shifting points of view — that he once made seem effortless. The result is a movie considerably more absorbing to talk, write, and think about afterward than it is to actually watch. Scott Foundas


The Stoning of Soraya M.

For those ambivalent about whether stoning women to death is a cruel punishment, here's The Stoning of Soraya M., a dutifully plodding if watchable dramatization of a real, particularly appalling application of sharia law in small-town Iran. Soraya (Mozhan Marnò) refuses to divorce abusive husband Ali (Navid Negahban), because he won't leave her enough money to feed her children, so he teams up with their village's mullah to start a rumor that she's committing adultery, punishable by death. Events take their inevitable course, with Soraya's BFF (played by Shohreh Aghdashloo) narrating, and Soraya gets to live out the title in a bloody and prolonged sequence reminiscent of The Passion of the Christ — which is appropriate, since Jim Caviezel pops up here, speaking creditable Farsi as the journalist who blows the whole thing up. Director Cyrus Nowrasteh gives the proceedings more flair than is usual for the explicitly didactic: If his ideas (the camera rocketing on the stones thrown at Soraya, as if they were Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' arrows all over again) are bad, at least he's trying. But this is basically self-congratulatory fare for people who feel more "politically conscious" when reminded that women in the Islamic world can have it rough. Right now, you're better off just watching the news. Vadim Rizov

 
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