The first image in THE PATIENCE STONE is of a bowl of water tranquilly reflecting the blue of the roomís walls, and the stylized birds in flight on the roomís window curtains. A bomb breaks the stillness and ripples the water. It is the first rumbling of the cataclysmic change to come. This is a radical film that makes its points with a quiet impact that is somehow far more compelling than the bombast usually accompanying such works. Based on the novel by Atiq Rahimi, and directed by him from a script co-written with Jean-Claude Carierre, it is more than just condemnation of the oppression of women in fundamentalist Muslim culture, it is a damnation of the way the powerful prey upon the weak in all cultures, and what happens the weak begin to question the order of things.
The place is an unnamed, turbulent city where warring Muslim factions have turned neighborhoods in to battle grounds, Soldiers praise god before slaughtering civilians, and one woman is on her own in a place where there is no accepted role for such a thing. As unnamed as the city, she is a 27-year-old with two small daughters and a much-older husband who has spent 16 days completely paralyzed from a bullet in his neck he received after fighting a duel of honor. Abandoned by her in-laws because she is not a widow, without resources to continue buying the medicines that will keep her husband alive, at first she clings to her religion, which increasingly fails her. She relies on charity that is drying up around her. She continues to ask her inert husband permission to go out. And then, in a sudden epiphany, wonders why she is asking permission. Itís a small moment, but a pivotal one, as this silent woman begins to discover her own power by way of discovering her voice.
With her husband paralyzed and, for all practical purposes at her mercy, she uses this new power to force him to listen to her for the first time in their lives. She tells him the story of her life, the disappointments the anger, the grief, and the longings, unburdening herself and in the process revealing the inherent hypocrisy of a system that denies the humanity of half its population. The husband, a soldier who has never so much as kissed her during their marriage, becomes the mirror of her progression from victim to Valkyrie. By turns repentant and seething, she abandons him only to return to finally process her previously repressed feelings into becoming a woman free from dogma and cultural expectations..
But at a price.
She escapes rape by claiming to be a prostitute. She lies to the mullah who has nothing to offer her but platitudes in a sharp variation on Madame Bovaryís parish priest. In long visits with her aunt, who is an actual prostitute, and the happiest woman of in the film, religion is discussed with a spirit of genuine inquiry, and the law, seen through the prism of someone who lives outside it, is shown up for what it is.
Rahimi depicts great ugliness in his film, but also enormous tenderness and he portrays both with deliberately juxtaposed images of enormous impact and exquisite beauty. There is throughout a light like that of heaven that permeates the action, as though enlightenment is all around, just waiting to be absorbed. Even when the scene is that of a slaughter, or a gun held to the womanís head by a soldier enraged by her desire to live without his definition of honor. At the center of it all is Golshifteh Farahani ís face. In a searing, provocative, and passionate performance, she performs a virtual monologue with such emotional precision that there is no need for the traditional call-and-response of dialogue driven films. The camera homes in on that face as it vividly experiences a full range of emotions with startling intimacy and energy. And when the camera pulls away, it is to watch as she sensually drags her fingers along a wall after a life-changing moment, or splashes a shadow onto a bit of laundry to startle both her and the audience with a moment of uncertainty. The precision of details that defines a universe is second only to the evolution of Farahaniís expression, as the woman goes from pleading and submissive to confident and contemptuous. Never has the putting on of red lipstick, or the half-smile beneath it, been more defiant or more triumphant as in the last image of THE PATIENCE STONE. And when it hearkens back to a scene wherein the womanís two small daughters try on the lipstick of their prostitute aunt, it also becomes an image of soaring and unexpected optimism.