Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 42 min.
Our Advisories (1-10): Violence 6; Language 1; Sex-Nudity 5.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
Deliver me, O Lord, from evildoers;
protect me from those who are violent,
who plan evil things in their minds
and stir up wars continually.
They make their tongue sharp as a snake’s,
and under their lips is the venom of vipers.
But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
Directed by Atiq Rahimi and based on his own 2008 novel, The Patience Stone is set in an unnamed Middle Eastern country wracked by civil war. The filmmaker apparently wants us to see his characters as the Muslim equivalent of Every Man and Every Woman, because none of them are given names. A beautiful woman (played by Golshifteh Farahani) tends to the physical needs of her older comatose husband who was shot in the neck during one of his forays into battle. She must also tend to their two young daughters, rushing with them at intervals to escape to a shelter from bombs and rockets landing close by.
The woman at first asks if her husband can hear her. He is the only one to whom she can turn, her in-laws all having fled with no concern for the welfare of herself and her two children. With great difficulty she manages to drag and push her husband into an alcove where he can be hidden from view by curtains while she is gone. She tries to find her aunt, but she has moved, and the new occupant of her residence refuses to divulge where she has moved. The wife, with no money to pay for medicine for her husband or food for the children is desperate, so she returns to her aunt’s former home and refuses to leave until the woman reveals the new address. Also during this period two soldiers invade their apartment and strip the wedding ring and her watch. They would have raped her but for her claim that she is a prostitute. She knew that such super moralists as they (or at least the older one, the other being a youth impaired by his stuttering) would recoil from such an unclean woman. When she at last finds her aunt (Hassina Burgan), the older woman tells her she did right—otherwise they would have killed her after ravishing her body.
The aunt, who herself is a prostitute, also tells her the Persian folktale of The Patience Stone, a black stone that absorbs all of the troubles and fears that you tell it, until at last it shatters, leaving the confessor free at last. Thus the woman’s monologue before her husband gradually shifts from reports of present hardships and needs to the past ten years of their arranged marriage. She was but 17 and he was much older. Except for fulfilling at frequent intervals his lust for her body, there had been no sharing or rapport between them. Never had he considered her needs or desires, only his own. All the bitterness and frustration pour forth from her into the ear of the unblinking husband. We wonder if he can take any of this in, and if so, what feelings he must be experiencing.
The young stuttering soldier (Massi Mrowat) reappears bringing gifts. The woman has left her children with their aunt, so she gives herself to him, guiding and encouraging his clumsy efforts. This too she tells her husband, perhaps enjoying a sense of control over her life for the first time. Therapists tell us that we need to vent our feelings, articulate our frustrations and our dreams, and this is well illustrated in this tale of oppression and longing for freedom, the husband perhaps being the patience stone. If so, what will happen when he has absorbed everything to the limit of endurance—what form will his explosion take? The startling climax only partially answers this, leaving a great deal for the viewer to decide about her eventual fate.
This is a beautifully photographed film about the ugly, dark side of religious fanaticism. It is not anti-Muslim (though some American conservatives might so conceive it), being made by an Afghan filmmaker. The husband could just as easily be a radical Christian whose literal interpretation of the Old and New Testament (largely Pauline, it being necessary to discard Luke’s view of a feminist Jesus) leads him to believe men are superior to women. Only a Middle Easterner such as Atiq Rahimi could have made this film without being labeled an anti-Muslim propagandist. As it is he has given us a challenging visual parable of a woman much like the Mary who preferred to sit at the feet listening to Christ rather than staying in the kitchen with her more traditional sister cooking dinner.