Golshifteh Farahani as The Woman. Click on the 'Play' button above to watch the trailer for The Patience Stone.
March 25, 2013
(Republished July 24, 2013)
Are the navel-gazing antics of HBO's Girls less significant than the tortured trials undertaken by the unnamed Afghan woman in Atiq Rahimi's The Patience Stone? Well, yes, obviously. But do the gravity of those trials make the latter automatically a more worthwhile work? Not necessarily. Rahimi's dramatically inert Patience Stone is elevated by star Golshifteh Farahani and a couple of deeply upsetting sequences. Yet much of the picture is spent with our protagonist uttering her every thought to a comatose husband (Hamid Djavadan). It doesn't make for the most compelling viewing. That's not because it's still; it's because it renders our subject false.
Farahani plays a mother of two cursed with nursing her older husband after he suffers a debilitating bullet to the neck. Life is tough in Afghanistan and only getting tougher. The rebels regularly take to the streets, having their way with women, and making gruesome public displays of those who dare to defy them. Since her husband is still alive, no other man can marry her and save her from her fate. Recalling the fable of 'The Patience Stone' - in which a stone carries the burden of your thoughts, and then shatters once you've lightened your load - she shares with him her dreams of another life, eventually unveiling some long-held secrets about her sexuality and their relationship. It's perhaps the first time they've ever truly spent time with one another. He was absent for their wedding, so she had to marry his dagger instead.
Golshifteh Farahani and Hamid Djavadan.
The Patience Stone is based on Rahimi's novel of the same name, though I could have sworn the source of origin was the stage. The dialogue here - co-scripted by Jean-Claude Carrière - feels overtly theatrical and occasionally unnatural. (Also, the fact we spend most of our time with one woman and an unconscious man in a sparsely decorated room suggested to me this once worked better as a play. Not so.) It's both startling and refreshing to see an Afghan woman speaking of her sexual experiences in such a frank manner. I mentioned Girls earlier; a beautiful, artful show whose creator and stars are frequently shamed for their candor. No one in that series endures anything as remotely troubling as the hero of The Patience Stone. Yet her experience never truly leaps off the screen, or feels real; it remains theoretical on account of the stagey, over-written monologues.
Rahimi subjects his main character to an unending series of harrowing events. Perhaps the dead-eyed stare of his camera is meant to replicate the way in which the world responds to such travesties (the same goes for him choosing to not name the woman). That hardly justifies the way in which the movie makes one character, a rapist, sympathetic with a stutter and, as is later revealed, sexual stamina. The only ferociousness comes from Farahani, an Iranian actress exiled from her home country after posing nude for a French magazine. She gives The Patience Stone its gravitas.
The Patience Stone plays the Melbourne International Film Festival July 27 and August 8, 2013.