Some movies prove both immediately transformative — altering how we view the world as soon as we leave the theater — and long-lasting, demanding days or weeks of reflection. “The Patience Stone” is one such movie, transporting viewers to a war-torn Middle Eastern country where a woman is grappling with a series of misfortunes.
As the movie begins, the nameless mother of two, played by Golshifteh Farahani, is beginning to lose hope. It has been 16 days since her husband, a war hero, was shot in the neck during a petty fight and rendered comatose. With no money, she has resorted to filling his homemade IV with sugar water. Worse yet, his family has fled the vicinity as civil war has disrupted their neighborhood, and the woman’s one nearby relative — a straight-talking prostitute aunt — has disappeared. The protagonist appears to be stuck as bombs and artillery fire grow closer to her spare apartment.
In a stroke of luck, the aunt’s whereabouts come to light, and the mother and children move into the brothel. But the woman continues to visit her old apartment, seemingly against her better judgment, to watch over her unconscious mate. During these long days spent washing and changing the man, the woman begins to talk, for the first time, to her husband. She starts small with little tales of day-to-day life, but soon she reveals deep and dangerous secrets. The more she discloses, the more she wants to; she even starts to fall in love with her husband, who has turned from an intimidating soldier into a helpless guardian of her confidential information.
The film, directed by Kabul-born Atiq Rahimi, who also wrote the novel on which the movie is based, is painstakingly shot and devoid of excess. Each image seems to carry some prophetic meaning, from curtains with birds frozen in flight, to a shot of the man with his eyes open, appearing dead except for the pulsations of his jugular vein.
The story, too, is expertly handled, propelled by an unrelenting urgency. For a mostly interior drama, stress is constant, from the woman’s dwindling funds to the bombs that hit too close to home to the menacing soldiers in search of valuables and women.
Farahani’s performance is outstanding. She comes across as both delicate and fierce, and her sad-eyed anguish is palpable. She is tasked with capturing a wide range of emotions and masters every one, from the moment she cries to her husband, “Don’t leave me” to a point when she threatens to leave and tells him to go to hell. Even as she contradicts herself, her sentiments feel justified.
It’s exactly this authenticity that makes the film’s final scenes feel like too much. For a mostly quiet story marked by restraint, the ending comes across as artificial. Yet that doesn’t temper the power of a memorable movie about one woman’s journey from cautious bystander to agent of her own destiny.
Even as she transcends her circumstances, it’s impossible to forget the helpless woman she was, not to mention the many just like her.
R. At Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema. Contains sexual content, violence and language. In Persian with subtitles. 98 minutes.