By Caryn James | James on Screens August 13, 2013 at 10:08AM
The Patience Stone is an exceptional, eloquent film with a richly specific setting and global resonance. Directed by Atiq Rahimi, it is the story of an Afghan woman in a war-torn village, keeping watch over her once-belligerent, now comatose husband. The plot turns on a question that gets to the heart of a problem facing oppressed women everywhere: left alone to care for herself and her two daughters, how can a someone whose every move had formerly been controlled by her husband possibly fend for herself?
The drama may come from the unnamed woman's survival story, but the film's great power comes from her emotional honesty as she speaks to her husband, telling him things about her past and revealing rebellious ideas she could never say out loud if he were conscious -- not if she wanted to live. That fear is literal truth, not metaphor; as we come to see; he is ready to murder her for her defiance.
In Rahimi's most poetic touch, the film evokes the legend of a "patience stone," which receives the storyteller's secrets. The woman regards her older, narrow-minded, unloved husband as that stone. She survives battles and gunfire that rattle her walls, and intermittently leaves their hovel of a home try to get water, or to place her children in the care of her only relative -- an aunt who is also a prostitute. But the essence of the film is her storytelling, so focused that at times The Patience Stone feels like an enrapturing monologue.
The Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani has a beautiful face and endlessly sad expression, and her beauty is matched by the graceful screenplay. Rahimi (born in Afghanistan, he has lived in Paris for nearly twenty years) adapted it from his own novel, along with Bunuel's great screenwriter, Jean-Claude Carriere. The film is laden with textured details that take on significance. We discover why a dagger hangs on the wall under a photo of a man. We hear the woman tell her husband, "Go to hell," more than once. Eventually we hear about the desperate actions she took simply to survive in an arranged marriage that gave her no control over her own life. And although the main character embodies weighty themes, she is a beautifully distinct individual; Rahimi never clumsily imposes issues on his film.
A standout at the this year's Tribeca Film Festival, The Patience Stone is now opening in theaters (NY and LA on August 14th; other cities in the following weeks). It is a not-to-be-missed experience.