The Patience Stone is
an exceptional, eloquent film with a richly specific setting and global
resonance. Directed by Atiq Rahimi, it is the story of an Afghan woman in a
war-torn village, keeping watch over her once-belligerent, now comatose
husband. The plot turns on a question that gets to the heart of a problem
facing oppressed women everywhere: left alone to care for herself and her two
daughters, how can a someone whose every move had formerly been controlled by
her husband possibly fend for herself?
The drama may come from the unnamed woman’s survival story,
but the film’s great power comes from her emotional honesty as she speaks to
her husband, telling him things about her past and revealing rebellious ideas
she could never say out loud if he were conscious — not if she wanted to live.
That fear is literal truth, not metaphor; as we come to see; he is ready to
murder her for her defiance.
In Rahimi’s most poetic touch, the film evokes the legend of
a “patience stone,” which receives the storyteller’s secrets. The
woman regards her older, narrow-minded, unloved husband as that stone. She
survives battles and gunfire that rattle her walls, and intermittently leaves
their hovel of a home try to get water,
or to place her children in the care of her only relative — an aunt who is also
a prostitute. But the essence of the film is her storytelling, so focused that
at times The Patience Stone feels
like an enrapturing monologue.
The Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani has a beautiful face
and endlessly sad expression, and her beauty is matched by the graceful
screenplay. Rahimi (born in Afghanistan, he has lived in Paris for nearly
twenty years) adapted it from his own
novel, along with Bunuel’s great screenwriter, Jean-Claude Carriere. The film
is laden with textured details that take on significance. We discover why a
dagger hangs on the wall under a photo of a man. We hear the woman tell her
husband, “Go to hell,” more than once. Eventually we hear about the desperate
actions she took simply to survive in an arranged marriage that gave her no control over her
own life. And although the main character embodies weighty themes, she is a beautifully
distinct individual; Rahimi never clumsily imposes issues on his film.
A standout at the this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, The Patience Stone is now opening in theaters
(NY and LA on August 14th; other cities in the following weeks). It is a