The Stoning of Soraya M. is a deeply disturbing film about a rural Iranian woman stoned to death for adultery during the reign of Ayatollah Khomeini. It's an old-fashioned melodrama that climaxes with modern graphic violence, a horrific and harrowing film sure to inflame passions and stoke outrage.

Based on a 1994 nonfiction work by French-Iranian journalist-novelist Freidoune Sahebjam, Stoning is a tale told to a French journalist ( Jim Caviezel) who just happens to break down in a rural Iranian village on his way to the border. The townsfolk are tentative, suspicious. The mayor and the local imam are wariest of all. The last thing they want is for the journalist to meet the defiant, outraged Zahra, played with a tearful zeal by Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog). She corners the reporter and tells him (in Persian, with English subtitles) of what "these devils" have done. "They cannot get away with it."

Zahra relates the story of her niece, Soraya (Mozhan Marnò, compelling), a woman whose husband, to get out of the marriage, accused her of adultery and got the local mullah to go along with it. Stoning shows a venal village meant to mirror the Orwellian theocracy in charge of Iran. It's Animal Farm meets Shirley Jackson's The Lottery.

Aghdashloo is a fury as the aunt who still speaks her mind in a nation where "women now have no voices." Zahra tries to warn Soraya, to reason with or shame her accusers. Navid Negahban plays the husband in shades of mustache-twirling evil.

The acting is better than the writing, which paints many characters in simplistic, hateful strokes. But co-writer/director Cyrus Nowrasteh, who wrote the controversial TV movie The Path to 9/11, constructs a climax that is unblinking, brutal and moving.

The film's credits have enough ThePassion of the Christ and American Carol ties to make one question the filmmakers' motives. But The Stoning of Soraya M. is enough to give anyone pause before excusing any behavior from a part of the world that seems, at times, to relish the Dark Ages.

See for yourself

The Stoning of Soraya M.

****■

Cast: Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jim Caviezel, Mozhan Marno, Navid Negahban.

Director: Cyrus Nowrasteh.

Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes.

Industry rating: R, for a disturbing sequence of cruel and brutal violence, and brief strong language.