The Patience Stone
Opens Fri., Sept. 20 at Sundance Cinemas. Rated R. 102 minutes.
There is war, and there is war. The more intimate variety plays out against the global kind in The Patience Stone, a film with an unspecified location but a painfully recognizable set of conflicts.
On the smaller front, we find a wife and (unnamed) mother trying to keep it together in the midst of chaos. The family home is in a battle zone where Taliban-like fighters regularly rake through the neighborhood. What’s particularly alarming is that the woman’s husband—an older man she was forced to marry 10 years earlier—has been comatose for two weeks, having sustained an injury in the conflict. He might wake up; he might not. As she feeds him through a tube, she begins talking to him—an outpouring that becomes the movie’s dominant drama, dwarfing even the combat going on outside. It becomes clear that the wife has never been encouraged or allowed to speak her mind in this marriage, so there is a great deal of catching up to do. Many of her revelations would have serious consequences in this traditional religious culture—if they were heard by men. But in the meantime, survival issues surround this one-sided conversation. The woman scrambles to feed her children and survive the threat of assault from soldiers. She also steps out for money and worldly wisdom from a scandalous aunt who works as a madam.
It isn’t quite a one-woman show, but Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani’s performance is a tour de force nonetheless. Sweet-featured and heavy-browed (she’s already gotten Hollywood’s attention, in 2008’s Body of Lies), Farahani is stunning in every sense, and her gutsy performance carries The Patience Stone through its overstated moments—though to be fair to the movie, nuance has never played particularly well to fundamentalists. (As though to underscore the point, Farahani’s prior work with moviemaking infidels got her banned from returning to Iran; she now lives in Paris.) Kabul native Atiq Rahimi directs, having adapted his own novel with the help of the incredibly well-traveled screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, an expert in the business of making tricky material find a compelling flow.
Early in the film our heroine prepares to leave the house. “I have to go out,” she tells her unconscious husband. “Is that all right?” It takes another beat for her to wonder why she is still asking permission—but old dogma dies hard.