The Patience Stone (15)
Outstanding central performance from Iranian Golshifteh Farahani in a moving drama about a woman confiding in her injured and unresponsive husband in a ruined war zone. Compelling and revealing.
Atik Rahimi | Afghanistan, French, German, UK. | 2012 | 102 minutes | 15
This drama transports us to a country at war – which may or may not be Afghanistan – where a woman cares for her husband who is injured and in a coma. As she tries to keep him alive, and herself and her family safe, she tells him all the things she would never have been able to say in ten years of abusive marriage. He becomes her “patience stone”: a magic black stone in Persian mythology to which one can confide everything.
Much of the film is an internal monologue conducted within one room of a ruined house but the vividly depicted sounds and sights of what’s going on outside – bombs exploding, artillery fire, marauding soldiers – never leave us in any doubt that we are in the middle of a civil war. The beauty and sensual grace of the Woman (the characters are never named) make stark contrast with the devastated setting and the unresponsive Man lying within it, whom she first comforts and then confronts. Bursts of action, some of it violent and explicit, keep this brilliantly filmed picture moving along, with unexpected and shocking turns of events leading ultimately to a climax of great force. As well as telling a story about life in a war zone, the film describes one woman’s protest at the injustice and brutality suffered by many women in Muslim societies. This is a moving and compelling film, leading us from pity to understanding.
The film is directed by writer and filmmaker Atik Rahimi; refugee from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and now living in Paris and Kabul. In 2008 he won the Prix Goncourt with his novel, ‘Syngué Sabour’ (the Persian name for the patience stone), but it was the legendary film writer Jean-Claude Carrière who convinced him it would make good cinema. Carrière, described by the British Film Institute as European cinema’s “invisible giant”, is known for screenplays written in collaboration with the likes of Bunuel (‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’), Rappeneau (‘Cyrano de Bergerac’) and Wajda (‘Danton’).
The outstanding central performance is from Golshifteh Farahani as a frightened woman gradually gaining self-confidence, utterly authentic in her portrayal of the gamut of emotions running through the Woman. Farahani is a figure of controversy in her native Iran, fleeing when the Islamic Republic condemned her for playing opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Body of Lies’. She had a hard time first persuading Rahimi to cast her, and then memorising the long monologues (in Dari, the Persian dialect spoken in Afghanistan) which Rahimi wanted delivered without a break.
Most of the filming was carried out in Morocco but exteriors were shot in Kabul with a skeleton French and Afghani crew who stayed in private homes among friends, and never shot in the same place for more than two or three days. The film was apparently welcomed in parts of the Muslim world, winning Best Film in the 2012 Eurasia International Film Festival in Kazakhstan and Best Actress in the 2012 Abu Dhabi Film Festival (as well as awards in France). It has been screened in Kabul but not everywhere in Afghanistan – and nowhere in Iran, because Farahani’s work is banned there. We leave the last word to Rahimi who is optimistic about the future of film in Afghanistan after years of fighting and Taliban oppression and who said about the making of the film: “We tried to employ many Afghan apprentices, including young women, and the young people are making movies everywhere you look! There is no money, but there is excitement and ingenuity and cheap digital cameras. Sometimes we couldn’t get the equipment or the operators we wanted because they were busy making their own films. That’s the change that will come to Afghanistan – through culture, not through war.”
Weighted vote 85.2%