THE PATIENCE STONE
2 out of 4 stars
Submitted by Afghanistan in the Best Foreign Language category for last years’ Academy Awards (then rejected by the Oscar nominating committee), “The Patience Stone” is the kind of movie some critics and a few art-house fans will laud and fawn all over. It is well-acted, beautifully photographed and offers commentary regarding Middle Eastern viewpoints about women. It’s also one of the most depressing films ever made.
There are a number of relatively recent downbeat Academy Award-nominated films many people consider to be classics, among them “Se7en,” “Atonement,” “Requiem for a Dream,” “Little Children,” “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Flight 93.” Two others — “Million Dollar Baby” and “The English Patient” both won multiple Oscars including Best Picture.
Although it’s not a lot, “The Patience Stone” shares some thematic overlap with “The English Patient.” Set in approximately the same part of the world during wartime, a woman in her 30s is married to a man with whom she has no passion and finds it in the arms of another man but pays a heavy price. For those who think they might have just read a plot spoiler — rest assured — you haven’t.
For the most part, the screenplay co-written by Jean-Claude Carrier and French-Afghan director Atiq Rahimi (adapting his own 2008 novel) is top-heavy on atmosphere and low on dialogue. While there are multiple speaking roles, one character — credited only as “the Woman” (Golshifteh Farahani) — is given about 90 percent of the lines, often in solo-spoken or inner-monologue form.
The majority of the time she talks to her older Jihadist husband (“the Man” played by Hamidreza Javdan) who is in a coma after being shot in the neck. It’s an odd coma; the Man’s eyes remain open the entire time and he never blinks. Though not exactly spelled out, it’s safe to assume the setting is in Afghanistan during the current U.S. war and the Man is a Muslim extremist. To be clear — the wife uses the word “Jihad” and clearly connects him with other family members who are Jihadists.
At the end of her wits, no longer able to pay for the Man’s medication and seeing he’s not getting better, the Woman — with her two young daughters — leaves her dilapidated and bomb-strewn hovel. She has no idea where to go or who to ask but she’s pretty sure tube-feeding the Man sugar water is not going to cure him.
Where it goes from here is best left explained by the movie but what can be revealed is that the Woman begins to realize what she’s given up (and put up with) over the course of 10 years of marriage and starts to see herself in a different light. For the first half of the film, the Woman is shown unadorned; without make-up, unkempt and fretful — as the character should rightfully be portrayed. Toward the end, Farahani (who recently posed in the nude for a men’s magazine) looks as if she’d just had a glamour make-over in the green room of a morning TV talk show.
It’s just speculation but better hair, plucked eyebrows, plumped, colored lips, flowing garb and a smile is not likely what comes to mind when imagined by advocates of female empowerment. While the Woman’s transformation is complete, it also puts more of an emphasis on the surface and less on the core while staying progressive neutral.
Presented in Persian with English subtitles. (Sony Classics)