Film Review: The Patience Stone

Alternately moving and tedious,<i>The Patience Stone</i> requires considerable patience from its audience.

Director and co-writer Atiq Rahimi (Earth and Ashes) conveys the tragedies of the most recent Afghan war from an unusual perspective—that of the Afghani wife of a man in a vegetative state. For the most part, therefore, The Patience Stone becomes a one-woman show and Golshifteh Farahani handles her plum assignment with grace. But the personalized tale is not very edifying about the particulars of the regional conflict, except for the conclusion that people get hurt on all sides of war. For viewers not familiar with that pacifist sentiment or such works as All Quiet on the Western Front, this film should be enlightening.

Adapting his own 2008 novel and working with legendary screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, the Afghan-born Rahimi tells the story of the young wife (Iranian-born Farahani) of a much older ex-Jihad fighter (Hamid Djavadan) who has been paralyzed by a bullet lodged in his neck. As the unnamed wife (and mother) nurses her unnamed husband, she recalls both the incidents that led to their current crisis and the lessens she learned along the way, particularly those imparted to her by her iconoclastic aunt (Hassina Burgan), who is caring for the couple’s two daughters. In fact, it is her aunt who explains the Persian myth of the patience stone, a rock used through the ages as an object for confessions for the suffering.

After hearing about the myth, the young wife regards her husband as her patience stone. In their bedroom, she begins confiding her true, embittered feelings about their 10-year-old marriage, her sorrows, fears and anger, but also her hopes and dreams. Ultimately, she becomes emboldened by the “talk cure” experience, despite the fact that war rages on outside their home and many of her family members are killed. By the time she meets a young soldier (Massi Mrowat), she feels a new sense of identity and purpose in her life.

Credit Rahimi for attempting to film a work that does not lend itself to mainstream cinematic storytelling. But he might have been much better off using more stylization than the flat, literal approach he takes. What might have impressed on the stage—an attenuated monologue by the heroine—seems forced in the confined space of the dreary one-room bedroom set. Rahimi breaks up the lack of action with flashbacks and sudden incidents in the present (such as a soldier breaking into the room and holding the wife at gunpoint). These scenes seem added on for “entertainment” value, as if Rahimi knew his central drama between wife and husband would not quite deliver the goods. Also, Rahimi’s pat finish featuring the handsome soldier undermines the feminist message he ostensibly wanted to send.

At least Farahani does not contribute to the theatricality of the piece. What could have been an over-the-top reading (on the order of Anna Magnani in The Human Voice) is restrained and convincing. Rahimi and cinematographer Thierry Arbogast film Farahani, a real beauty, with loving widescreen shots. Everything else about the production is subdued as well—Max Richter’s score, for example, is so quiet and unobtrusive, one has to strain to hear it.

The big mystery surrounding The Patience Stone concerns the contributions of Carrière. There is no signature by the writer who worked on all those bitingly ironic Buñuel classics or the variety of odd and fascinating films he did with others. Did he go “straight” for this occasion or were his efforts rewritten along the way? Whatever the backstory, it is unfortunate that The Patience Stone doesn’t contain the kind of dark, surrealist humor that is (or was) Carrière’s hallmark.