The audience for The Stoning of Soraya M., a title to quash all suspense and hope, must be small. Endeavoring to drive a wedge even further between Western and Middle Eastern cultures, to foster misunderstanding and foment hostility, it tells the inflammatory “true story” of the execution of an Iranian wife falsely accused of adultery by a cheating husband who doesn’t want to pay for a divorce. I suppose it might be recommended viewing for anyone who, in order to be convinced of the barbarity of the practice, needs to see the full cold-blooded preparations of burying the woman up to her hips with arms pinioned at her sides, needs as well to see every blood-drawing stone thrown — some of them in slow-motion, the first few of them thrown preferentially by father, husband, and sons — and needs in addition for the victim to be completely innocent of the charge: an Islamic Ox-Bow Incident. (What? It would be less distasteful if she’d been guilty?) Anyone else will likely be convinced only of the proportionate barbarity, to whatever smaller degree, of filmmaker Cyrus Nowrasteh, with his hammering closeups, his melodramatized villains (the husband’s eyes narrowing to slits, the mullah’s pupils darting side to side), and a moral subtlety that extends no farther than his grudging admission that one or two men in the village might personally be less than eager to pitch in and throw a stone.
$9.99, an Israeli-Australian co-production directed by the New York-based Tatia Rosenthal, offers animation for adults, not solely because of a sex scene or two but because of the total tapestry of lost souls and losers around an apartment building in Sydney, one of whose residents sends away for a book, at the titular price, that promises to disclose to his uncritical eye the meaning of life: “People always think there’s only one meaning, but actually there are six.” The painterly, or underground comicky, stop-motion puppets move with the approximate fluidity of the first King Kong, but paradoxically enough they gain some life from the inanimate dim-lit sets, painstakingly detailed in an architectural style we might call Low-Rent Dollhouse, little elevated by dabs of Magic Realism (a suicided guardian angel, an hallucinatory trio of Tom Thumb slackers). The threads in the tapestry may not add up to much, but at any point in its unfoldment this handcrafted whatsit is more interesting to look at than the seamless Up or Ice Age.