In Persian mythology there exists a magical black stone capable of absorbing all the secret sufferings of those who confide in it, until the stone shatters into a million pieces and the possessor of the stone is delivered of all her pain.
That would appear to be the allegory behind “The Patience Stone,” a film by French-Afghani director Atiq Rahimi, based on his 2008 novel of the same title. It opens today in the Dipson Theatres Eastern Hills Cinema in Williamsville.
The film’s nameless heroine, movingly portrayed by the beautiful Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, is the mother of two small daughters struggling to survive amid the stultifying poverty and violence of what appears to be war-torn Afghanistan. The specific location is never identified.
As the film opens in a dank room with bullet-scarred walls, she is seen tenderly bathing her husband. He has but a tiny bit of life left in his eyes and is, otherwise, completely immobile. He has been paralyzed after taking a bullet to the neck which, ultimately, makes him the perfect vessel to passively absorb all of his wife’s pent up longings and sorrows.
To her own bafflement, she talks to him compulsively and relentlessly between dodging a hail of gunfire on her way to market; periodically hiding from rebel soldiers in a cellar with her neighbors; and fleeing to the comfort of a favored aunt who is a prostitute in a brothel north of the city and serves as a confidante to the film’s heroine.
“My aunt was right to say, those who do not know how to make love make war,” she tells her husband.
The film offers a unique perspective on the stilted lives of women imprisoned by implacable social mores that span centuries and are largely informed by religion and ancient tribal conflicts. The heroine of the film reveals that she was married at 17. Her husband, whom she married in absentia, was a much older man and a local war hero still battling on the front lines when their wedding took place. The two did not even meet until two years after the ceremony, and when they finally do, he is an indifferent husband.
Ten years later, as he lay paralyzed from his bullet wound – not the result of battle on the field, but a random skirmish prompted by a personal insult– his wife lays bare all of her grievances from childhood to motherhood. When she takes on a shy, stuttering rebel soldier as a lover, she shares with her immobile husband all the intimate details of their sexual trysts.
“You have stayed alive just to listen to me,” she tells him.
While she has no illusions he will be fulfilled by what she shares, the heroine is hopeful of her own eventual fulfillment. If he regains his ability to move, “he’ll either be the same animal or he’ll change,” she tells her aunt.
To him, she says: “You’ll love me the way I want, because you’ll know all my secrets.”
Throughout the movie, he absorbs everything she tells him, until she makes a shocking revelation at the film’s dénouement. To say more, would spoil the end.
“The Patience Stone”
Three stars (Out of four)
Starring Golshifteh Farahani, Hamidrez Javdan and Hassina Burgan. A woman reveals her deepest thoughts to her paralyzed husband. 98 minutes. Rated R for language, some violence and sexual content. In Farsi with English subtitles.