Movie review: The Patience Stone

By Peter Calder

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Golshifteh Farahani brings a mesmering radiance to her portrayal of an Afghan wife.
Golshifteh Farahani brings a mesmering radiance to her portrayal of an Afghan wife.

The setting of this quietly subversive film, a French production shot in Kabul by an Afghan director, is never spelt out, perhaps for reasons of political sensitivity. But it is somehow fitting: the characters speak Persian, the majority language in Iran and Afghanistan, but the story it tells resonates across the Muslim world and beyond.

The script, based on director Rahimi's novel, is the work of the veteran Jean-Claude Carriere who collaborated with Bunuel as far back as the mid-60s. And it pays due credit to the original, which, though written in the third person, is essentially a sustained interior monologue.

The result, equal parts allegory and soap opera, seems stagey by comparison with the brutal realism of recent films from that part of the world. But, in large part thanks to the bravura performance of the Iranian star Farahani, it's mesmerising.

The radiantly lovely actress anchored her countryman Asghar Farhadi's marvellous About Elly (and appeared in Ridley Scott's Body of Lies), yet in Rahimi's film, her beauty is begrimed: anxious, careworn, even haggard, she sits in vigil over the comatose form of her husband who has been gravely wounded in an unspecified battle.

Armed Taliban prowl the streets - and, occasionally enter the room where she sits and where virtually all the action takes place.

As the film progresses, Farahani's character (called "The Woman" in the credits) talks to her husband ("The Man"), perhaps to alleviate her anxiety, perhaps because she senses that her communication might aid in his recovery. But gradually her words take on a darker tone as she begins to say the unsayable: the indignities and privations she has endured in 10 years of marriage to an apparently older man and the roots of her subjugation in her family of origin and the society into which she has been born.

Thus his mute form becomes the patience stone of the title, to which, according to Persian mythology, the penitent may tell their sorrows until it cracks and frees them from pain.

The sudden climax and resolution is perhaps excessively poetic and may work better on the page than the screen. But this is an intense and moving watch.

Stars: 4/5
Cast: Golshifteh Farahani, Hamid Djavadan, Massi Mrowat, Hassina Burgan
Director: Atiq Rahimi
Running time: 102 mins
Rating: M (violence, offensive language, sex scenes). In Persian with English subtitles
Verdict: A triumph of quiet subversiveness

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