A strange marriage of Scheherazade and Freud, “The Patience Stone” finds a young woman, known only as The Woman (Golshifteh Farahani), telling stories to save her life — a life that has been, until now, like a living death.
The stories are actually chapters of her autobiography, a series of childhood memories, adult lies, sexual secrets and powerful emotions never expressed before. You could say she heals herself of oppression, from within and without, as she performs a solo talking cure. But instead of speaking to a therapist, her witness is her much older husband — yes, The Man (Hamid Djavadan).
He was a wartime hero in their unnamed, bomb-blasted town. (It’s an Islamic culture, and this is an Afghan film, so draw your own conclusions.) But his fighting days are over. Shot in the neck following a non-military verbal dispute, he lies in an open-eyed vegetative state on the floor of their sprawling but decrepit stone house. Left alone with this breathing corpse, in a neighborhood rattled by mortar fire and rogue bands of soldiers seeking guns to appropriate and women to rape, The Woman spends most of her time recounting to her husband the ways he has made her life hell.
“The Patience Stone” could easily have derived from a play. It’s static, with few characters, and most of it consists of The Woman’s monologue. Farahani is a great, somber beauty, but the character is (understandably) a drag to be around for much of the movie; when she smiles for the first time near the end, it’s a revelatory moment. Good work also comes from Hassina Burgan as The Woman’s sly, worldly aunt. But the film sometimes feels as restrictive as the world it depicts. It seeks to find beauty in its bullet-pocked landscape, but too often finds tedium in the process.
“Stone” is based on director Atiq Rahimi’s own novel. There’s danger in an author adapting and directing his own work; he can lack distance and real perspective on the material. The long running time for such a thin, fable-like story is far too punishing for an audience. This was Afghanistan’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2013 Academy Awards. While you can appreciate the nation’s pride and its willingness to stand behind such a harsh cultural self-portrait, you can also understand why the academy didn’t include it among the five nominees.
“The Patience Stone.” With Golshifteh Farahani, Hassina Burgan, Hamid Djavadan. Directed by Atiq Rahimi. In Persian with subtitles. Rated R. 102 minutes. At United Artists Tara.