A slow tracking shot of a quiet room with curtains featuring birds brings us into Atiq Rahimi's The Patience Stone. The tranquil setting is violently interrupted by the loud concussion sound of a bomb gong off close by to our main setting. The blast is followed by gunfire that appears to be coming from just outside of a large double window of the room. The scene shifts to the two people in the room a young woman (Golshifteh Farahani) caring for an older man (Hamid Djavadan) who is lying motionless on his back on a flat mattress.
The woman prays over the man clutching prayer beads and implores him to attempt to try and hold his breath. He is breathing as his chest clearly rises and falls but not able to hear, respond or move. She is perplexed because the local Mullah advised that he would be moving and talking two weeks after the incident and they are now past that timeline. Young voices of the woman's children are heard outside of the room. They enquire about the man referring to him as their father while they also point out that there is no food in the home. The woman announces to her husband that she will go out and get more serum for his treatment hoping for a response but gets none.
The town is full of damaged buildings and dust as the woman and her children travel through the small village. She is refused medicine because she has not paid her account for a period of time. Instead upon her return home she rigs a makeshift I.V drip of sugar, water and salt then starts to reveal more information about her husband. He was injured an ongoing war engulfing the town and his injuries have rendered him in a vegetative state. All of the rest of her family have fled the town that is on the front line of the war. The woman repeatedly comments of the failure of Mullah to help her with her husband condition.
Soon the village is under attack and the towns people take refuge in underground cellars. The Husband has to be left in the room and the soldiers come in shouting at him at first then realizing his state ransack the house take some possessions of him and move on. Desperate the woman goes to find her Aunt (Hassina Burgan) and after two attempts at her old address discover her new location. She leaves her kids there and heads back to take care of her husband.
Now that her children are relatively safe she starts to tell her comatose husband her life story. She speaks of her childhood the harsh treatment of her father, her thoughts on their wedding his mother and the lust that his brothers had for her. He tells her things that she never would if he was conscious but feels free to do so as he is in this state. She discusses her actions with her Aunt and she relays the story of the Patience Stone a mythical stone that you can tell all of your painful stories to which the stone absorbs until one day it shatters leaving you free of all of your past problems.
Director Atiq Rhamini brings a fine adaptation of his 2008 prize winning novel to the screen. The piece starts of slow but as the woman begins to unburden herself with more stories that become increasingly detailed and personal the narrative builds to dizzying heights. The screenplay written by Rahmi and co writer Jean-Claude Carriere contains passages especially those delivered by the Aunt that are poignant and a strong commentary on the Muslim female experience. Her comments on how she responded to a husband that dismissed her because she was barren and the exchange with her niece when she discussed the deficiencies of one local solider are particularly strong portions of the script.
Cinematographer Thierry achieves a lot with a small room central area in the feature. His use of light coming through the large double window and how it reflects off the window frame and diffuses thought the curtains is especially sharpe. Thierry also uses the shadowing to represent the passing of time as the Woman recounts her story to her Husband. The colours are much brighter in the Aunt's house light greens, floral patterns and yellows make that setting more vibrant and alive as opposed to the Woman's home which is dark and pallid.
Rhamini keeps the scenes fresh in the main room through different shooting techniques he focuses in on the woman, the husband or object and in one shot when the Woman begins to share her intimate details he shoots her from behind and above. The majority of the bedroom scenes are shot in tight close up of the actors or important objects. The scenes in the village are shot from a distant fixed point with the actors moving in and out of the frame. One wonderful tracking shot follows the woman as she dresses to leave the home covers herself with the full burqa as she leaves her property followed by the camera that moves up and over the fence then perches at that vantage point as she heads into town.
The costumes in the piece are traditional. The woman wears a full burqa whenever she is out in public. If someone comes to the main window or to her gate she covers her head with a hijab. The soldiers are dressed in standard rebel forces uniforms, scarfed with their heads covered, guns and gun belts. The Husband is dressed in a traditional outfit. The Aunt's clothing is full of in bright yellows, reds, greens and she is clad in gold scarfs and traditional Afghan jewellery.
Music is scarce and when used is mainly based on traditional instruments. The pace of the score does pick up towards the end as the woman revels more and more intimate details to her incapacitated husband. The long shots of the town are often underpinned by traditional chanting. One scene as the woman leaves her home and walks through town is backed by a storyteller in town using a loudspeaker to tell the story of Khadija and how she wanted to help Mohammed open his eyes to reach his prophetical truth.
Towards the middle of the film the woman hears of an attack that is underway and she manages to get her husband into a covered area in the main room but is caught by two soldiers before she can escape. She tells them that she is a prostitute to avoid rape. The older solider hurls insults and they both leave. Later the younger solider returns pays and forces himself on the woman. An interesting part of the film is the evolution between the two and how the power shifts in the relationship.
The main location for the film is the room where the husband lays unmoving. The walls are in need of painting the furnishing sparse and after each attack the woman cleans up rubble and dust and rights the items that were over tuned by the blast . The next main set is the town. Built mainly with wood, stone and pieces of aluminum. It features dirt roads partially damaged buildings with rubble piled beside them and a small central square. Most townspeople push their wares around on carts and the occasional pick up truck speeds by with two or three soldiers in the bed. Conversations between neighbours are often through blown out holes in the walls that divide properties. A key feature of the main room is the large window. Often the action focus on people and conversations moving past the window and when the first group of soldiers come through they enter the home through the window. The woman often goes to the window and covers her head when visitors come by or to see if the water bearer has come that day.
Golshifteh Farahani gives an excellent performance as the woman. Her role is pivotal to the film and she delivers. The part is difficult as she spends the majority of the film acting against a character who is incapacitated therefore not speaking or responding. She alternates between wanting to care for him and wishing he would finally die on almost an hourly basis. Farahani brings one of the best acting performances of the year. Hassina Burgan is also strong as the Aunt A woman who has experienced and is very knowledgeable of how to make her way as a woman in a strict Muslim society and is always willing to pass on her wisdom. Massi Mrowat is very good as the young solider who is timid and bullied by his older counterpart. He begins as the aggressor in his relationship with the woman but that exchange grows and changes throughout the film.
The Patience Stone is a very watchable film that will spark discussion about the roles of men and women in Afghan society. There is strong commentary of both relationships between fathers and daughters and husbands and wives. A film that I can recommend.
*** out of 4
The Patience Stone | Atiq Rahimi | 2012 | France | 102 Minutes.
2013 Human Rights Watch Film Festival