DIR: Atiq Rahimi • WRI: Atiq Rahimi, Jean-Claude Carrière • PRO: Michael Gentile • DOP: Thierry Arbogast • ED: Hervé de Luze • DES: Erwin Prib • CAST: Golshifteh Farahani, Hamid Djavadan, Hassina Burgan, Massi Mrowat
A woman tends to her dying husband. The local pharmacist refuses her medicine; she owes him too much money. She goes to borrow from her aunt, but she, like the rest of her family, has moved from the city. Bombs blast and gunshots threaten the city’s citizens as they attempt to go about their daily business. Struggling to look after her family, the woman wonders what will become of them.
The woman’s husband was injured in a fight that arose from an insult. A bullet wound to the neck leaves him lifeless. The mullah had advised that her husband would be speaking after two weeks. Sixteen days later, at which point the film begins, her husband still unresponsive, the woman’s suffering continues.
Golshifteh Farahani, star of Asghar Farhadi’s About Elly, again proves to be one of world cinema’s rising stars, playing the woman who grows more confident as she reveals more of her secrets to her husband, gets advice from her unconventional aunt, deals with marauders and becomes involved with a stammering young soldier. The film depends on the strength of Farahani’s work; she succeeds in carrying it.
Its title refers to a fable that her aunt tells the woman about a stone that absorbs secrets. Confessing to the stone lifts the burden secrets the confessor might carry.
Aspects of Rahimi’s direction are unsubtle: reiterating the metaphorical association between the stone and the woman’s unconscious husband, or using quail fighting to illustrate the pointlessness of male violence already illustrated by the war torn setting. Rahimi benefits from an accomplished French creative team, including editor Hervé de Luze (The Pianist and Alain Resnais’ recent work) and Luc Besson’s frequent DOP, Thierry Arbogast. Explosions cause the camerawork to become appropriately handheld and edgy, shifting from the unflashy framing and mostly static shots of the rest of the film.
But this is not an epic war drama: it’s a character piece in a domestic setting. Atiq Rahimi co-wrote this adaptation of his novel with Jean-Claude Carrière, a frequent collaborator with Luis Buñuel in his later years. Terse writing makes for an effective, if talky, drama. Despite careful cinematography, the film cannot overcome its literariness, to which the dialogue frequently draws attention. The woman asks, “Why am I telling you all this?” and “Why am I talking so much?” distracting from the film’s realism.
Characters and places are anonymous, but The Patience Stone was Afghanistan’s Oscar contender last year for Best Foreign Language Film (it failed to gain a nomination). Farahani’s strong central performance makes the film far more effective than it might have been.
The Patience Stone is released on 13th December 2013