‘THE PATIENCE STONE’ ★★★1⁄2
The woman Golshifteh Farahani
The man Hamid Djavadan
The aunt Hassina Burgan
The young soldier Massi Mrowat
Sony Pictures Classics presents a film directed by Atiq Rahimi. Written by Rahimi and Jean-Claude Carriere. In Persian with English subtitles. Running time: 102 minutes. Rated R (for sexual content, some violence and language). Opens Friday at local theaters.
Updated: October 7, 2013 11:35AM
Unburdening oneself of old hurts and bitter feelings almost always has therapeutic value, naturally, but it can also be a fraught and dangerous business.
It all depends on who’s doing the listening. Or, in case of “The Patience Stone,” whether or not what’s being said is actually being heard.
Based on his 2008 novel of the same name (winner of France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt), French-Afghan writer/director Atiq Rahimi’s “The Patience Stone” is set in Afghanistan (though the country is not named) during a nameless war in which an unnamed woman tends to her unnamed, badly wounded husband. The much-older man (Hamid Djavadan, perfecting the unseeing glassy-eyed stare) was shot in the neck not during combat but while fighting over a personal insult. Now he is paralyzed and seemingly in a vegetative state, though his eyes are disconcertingly wide open. The woman (Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani in a low-key tour de force) has made him comfortable and prayed two weeks for his recovery, assured by their mullah that the man should recover by then.
He has not, though, when the film opens, and the woman announces in the first moments of what will essentially be a long, far-ranging, occasionally interrupted monologue, that she’s tired of praying. Especially considering that there was no love between her mujahideen husband and herself during their arranged marriage, their neighborhood is being overrun by fighting, there’s no money, food or water, and she has two children to care for by herself — her husband’s family having left her alone to care for him.
She has her duty, though, and an unexpected opportunity. For the first time in her life, she is in a position to say whatever she likes to a man, to break the silence that’s been forced on her, and all women, in her male-dominated culture. It makes her feel better to talk to her husband, a situation her aunt, a prostitute who agrees to watch over her children in a brothel, compares to the man being like the patience stone of Persian legend — a rock that absorbs everything it’s told until a speaker is relieved of all burdens.
The major difference being that stones are generally more impartial than religious zealots in oppressively patriarchal societies. Coma or no coma.
“The Patience Stone” is less concerned with cultivating suspense about whether or not the woman’s husband is aware of her words, though, than it is about her decision to say them, to speak out for the first time. And to speak, implicitly, for all women who have been silenced. Though what she says, fortunately, is more personal than ideological. Little by little, she tells him about her life, her childhood with a father who once sold a 12-year-old sister to settle a gambling debt, and her disappointment to learn she had married a man who cared as little for her as her father did. And gradually, after days pass and he lives on, she grows more bold, expressing her sadness and resentment and revealing secrets that could have cost her life in any other situation, while trying to find courage to reveal the final, most terrible secret of all.
Remarkably, Rahimi manages to keep these extended speeches, all taking place in the same tiny room, from becoming too static — though there are times when the script feels self-consciously literary.
He accomplishes that partially as a result of recruiting venerable French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere (a frequent collaborator with Luis Bunuel) and opening up the story to include situations with more dramatic give and take. Scenes involving the woman’s aunt in her brothel, for instance, and enemy soldiers who invade the house where she has hidden her husband, leading to a relationship with a young, shy soldier who comes back to her home believing she is a prostitute.
Mostly, though, Rahimi simply made an inspired decision when he chose Farahani (whose films have been banned in Iran after her appearance in the Ridley Scott terrorist thriller “Body of Lies” — and a nude photo shoot in a French magazine), who quietly but powerfully works her way through subtle shadings of emotion from fear to despair to anger to love to righteous vindication.
While continually conveying a sense that the woman herself is shocked at the things she is saying.
Bruce Ingram is a local freelance writer and film critic.