Patience Stone-485
Photo by Benoît Peverelli - Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

We’ve seen many facets of life in war-torn Middle Eastern countries, but none quite like the intimate depiction of a young woman’s existence in The Patience Stone. Iranian-born Atiq Rahimi adapted his best-selling novel in collaboration with the celebrated screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière (whose many credits include The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Unbearable Lightness of Being). And there is a third, equally important collaborator: the beautiful actress Golshifteh Farahani, who dominates the film as a young woman trapped in a loveless marriage with an older man. Once a prominent, heroic warrior, he now lies near death in their stifling home, with bursts of gunfire and bombs exploding right outside the door. They, and their two young daughters, have been abandoned by family and friends, leaving a desperate Farahani to find some way to survive and feed her children.

The specific country is never named, because it doesn’t matter: the male-dominated, misogynistic culture crosses many boundary lines. With no one around, Farahani begins speaking to her comatose husband (and to us) in a stream-of-consciousness confessional about her life.

What do well-meaning people do in order to survive in such a world? Who is considered heroic and who is branded a coward? Traditional lines blur as we learn about Farahani’s background and what she sacrificed in order to be considered a good and faithful wife.

The Patience Stone doesn’t overplay its hand, treating some of its most shocking moments in matter-of-fact fashion. That, ultimately, is its strength, not unlike the heroine it depicts so believably.