It takes a brave director to tackle a film set mainly in one room, the type of set-up usually far better suited to theatre than cinema. It makes more sense upon learning that director Atiq Rahimi is also the author of the novel The Patience Stone (2012) was adapted from. Perhaps then, the kudos should go to lead actress Golshifteh Farahani, who spends ninety per cent of the proceedings alone and yet still manages to maintain the viewer’s attention with her tender, understated performance. Farahani, as ‘The Woman’, plays an Afghani wife and mother whose soldier husband lies in a vegetative state after being shot.
With enemy soldiers trampling through her living room and two young girls to protect, our protagonist takes her daughters to live with her aunt. Back at her house, her much older husband still shows signs of life and, try as she might, she cannot bring herself to abandon him in search of safety. She cares for him with what little resources she has left and in turn staves off loneliness by disclosing her deepest secrets to a man she was clearly once very intimidated by. As her confessions unfold she grows in confidence, and comes to take comfort in her husband’s company who had been so distant and unloving in their ten years of marriage. It’s not until a young soldier mistakes her for a prostitute that her honesty leads to a cathartic finale.
Immediately, you appreciate the strong visuals on show. Farahani’s green burka rippling gently through a crumbling grey village evokes a beacon of hope in amongst civil war, and Rahimi’s focus on patterns and textures adds character to a movie with very few cast members. However, this comes at the expense of drama and plot, elements that The Patience Stone lacks somewhat. Whilst there is definitely beauty in its understated nature, the most dramatic events are underplayed and the film lacks any heart-pumping moments. This is not solely down to Farahani, whose performance is marvellous when her character is contemplative, but her subtle style is lost amongst the action when the pace picks up and she doesn’t quite deliver what’s required to grip the viewer.
The issues confronted in The Patience Stone are expressed honestly throughout, with a pleasing tie-in from an old fable that gives us access to the woman’s thoughts. Our heroine’s aunt tells her a stone that protects you whilst absorbing all of your worries and secrets, that once shattered will release you from your pain. Her husband acts as such this stone and gives her the means to express them. However, her stories occasionally feel contrived, with exposition for the audience’s benefit rather than for her own. Farahani, an actress exiled from her native Iran, certainly manages to bring her own experiences to the surface of her performance, and overall her nearly solo outing, combined with Thierry Arbogast’s cinematography, prevent The Patience Stone from falling flat.
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