Review: The Patience Stone
When the unnamed heroine (Golshifteh Farahani) of Atiq Rahimi’s The Patience Stone asks her comatose husband (Hamid Djavaden) for permission to leave his bedside, she is suddenly hit by the futility of maintaining the pretense of their relationship. Amidst the violence of war-torn Afghanistan, caring for him becomes a life-threatening burden, but it also grants her the cathartic chance to speak freely for the first time in 10 years of marriage. A chamber drama that unfolds primarily as a monologue, The Patience Stone presents itself as a modern incarnation of the Scheherezade myth, with storytelling as the woman’s main life preserver. But while Scheherezade’s fictional tales bind the Persian King to her, in Rahimi’s version (adapted from his own novel), the wife tells the truth in order to free herself from her vegetative husband.
The film’s opening sequence gracefully establishes the space of the sick room where the majority of the film takes place. The camera lingers over the deep red carpets, the gray textured walls, the small shelf for that guards the family's carefully wrapped Quran, the fly resting on the lace curtains, and the soft hands of the strikingly beautiful young woman gently bathing her much older husband’s forehead with a washcloth. But the ostensible serenity of the domestic interior is pitted against the sounds of rapid gunfire outside. As she barely looks up, it’s clear that the rain of bullets is part of her quotidian soundscape; it was one such bullet that is responsible for the condition of her husband, venerated soldier often away at war.
Frustrated by the Mullah’s ineffectual suggestion that she constantly pray by his bedside, the woman oscillates between affection and bitterness towards her husband, speaking frankly and openly as if he can hear her. The act of talking becomes addictively therapeutic and as she pours her life out to him—her childhood traumas, how she felt when she married him at 17, the pressure from his family to bear him children—she gradually gains a sense of self-possession. Although they provide a reprieve from the film’s solitary setting, the flashbacks used to illustrate her past frequently feel disjointed, clumsily disrupting the flow of the story.
As the woman’s confessions turn toward the realm of the sexual—from the desires her husband was never able to satisfy, to instances of borderline abuse—she strikes up a relationship with a stuttering soldier (Massi Mrowat) who enters her home and mistakes her for a prostitute. Guiding him from virgin to seasoned lover, she tells her husband about each encounter with the tenderhearted boy.
By its very nature, the entire film hinges on Golshifteh Farahani’s lead performance. Condemned in her native Iran after appearing in Ridley Scott’s 2008 Body of Lies, Farahani through her presence adds an extratextual depth to the virgin/whore phenomenon at play in the film. As her character verbally flagellates herself with culturally defined labels such as “sick” and “possessed,” the extent to which women have internalized religious dogma becomes disturbingly evident. Farahani has an undeniably luminous screen presence, photographing like a perfectly chiseled Greek statue from every angle. But in some of the film’s trickier moments, she doesn’t quite have the chops to deliver the dramatic blow.
Despite the violence that plagues the rubble-laden streets in the film, the exteriors, shot in Kabul, are rendered with disquieting tranquility; the site of Farahani’s billowing green burka provides a striking visual contrast to the washed out environment she navigates. But by the second half, the film loses the palpable tension it manages to set up in the beginning. Scenes become tedious, as the director tends to favor awkward angles and staging that undercut what should be climactic moments.
Despite its flaws, The Patience Stone is praiseworthy for enabling its multidimensional, female protagonist to narrate her own story, even if it largely remains within the parameters of a fable.