Tag Archives: B-

THE PATIENCE STONE (SYNGUE SABOUR)

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B-

The situation is specific in “The Patience Stone,” the second film Atiq Rahimi has adapted from one of his own novels, but it’s obviously intended to be taken more broadly as a commentary on the subjection of women, especially in certain cultures. The film is almost an extended monologue in which a young woman (Golshifteh Farahani), trapped in a war zone with her far older husband (Hamid Djavdan), an injured jihadist who lies immobile on the floor of their tiny house, tries to cope not only with random explosions and incursions by ruthless militants, but with her feelings about a marriage she was forced into and wants desperately to free herself from. It’s an intermittently powerful piece, driven by Farahani’s nuanced performance, though eventually its verbosity takes a toll.

The earlier portion of the film sets the stage, with the woman taking shelter with neighbors as bombs fall and armed men do battle with automatic rifles while trying to protect her two little daughters (Hiba Lharrak and Aya Abida) and her paralyzed spouse, a tube hanging from his mouth. Occasionally she must venture from their drab home to try to get more medicine or some help from the local mullah. But she spends most of her time beside her husband, whom she asks whether he can hear her—an existential question, of course, since one can imagine almost any woman in such a society directing it to any man. Eventually she must confront immediate danger when a gunman breaks into the house, followed by a mysterious, and more sympathetic, comrade (Massi Mrowat). But her ingenuity turns that to her advantage, though the decision she takes invites danger of a different sort.

The main thrust of the narrative, however, arises when the woman makes her way to the new home of her independent-minded aunt (Hassina Burgan), who—among other things—recalls the story of the titular patience stone, which according to legend can take upon itself the weight of a person’s misery until it shatters. Using her husband as a human version of such a stone, she begins to reveal to his perhaps uncomprehending ears the truth about their marriage, which turns out to be increasingly anguished and even horrifying—so much so that in the final analysis they do what the legend says they will.

Rahimi clearly has a good deal to say about the plight of women in cultures such as the one portrayed here, and in transferring the first-person narrative of the book into dialogue form he attempts to include perhaps a bit too much from the source. But he’s fortunate indeed to have Farahani on hand to breathe life into what might have been a script as dry as the locale. In less capable hands “The Patience Stone” might have come off as an illustrated lecture about gender relationships in a fundamentalist Islamic world; and even with Thierry Arbogast’s excellent cinematography, that might be less than enthralling. But Farahani’s submerged beauty, and her ability to convey both intelligence and vulnerability, bring the material to life. The other actors are competent; she’s transcendent.

Thanks to her, the result is a film that can’t avoid seeming didactic, but adds enough intimate drama to its schematic premise to resonate with genuine human feeling.

LOVELACE

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B-

This movie about the career of the star of the 1972 porn classic “Deep Throat” is a bifurcated piece, telling its story from two very different perspectives. “Lovelace” first creates a rosy-eyed version of the notorious—and fabulously successful—picture’s making, concentrating on how young Linda Boreman gained fame under her nom de cinema. Then it totally upends that version by dramatizing how she was controlled and brutalized by her husband Chuck Traynor, whom she eventually had to flee. The result is a bouncy rags-to-not-really-riches tale that turns into a gritty feminist parable of exploitation, followed by a redemptive coda as Boreman became an anti-pornography activist in the last years of her life.

Linda (Amanda Seyfried) is introduced as a Florida teen living in a suburban house dominated by her sternly Catholic mother Dorothy (Sharon Stone), with her father John (Robert Patrick), a retired New York cop turned security guard, a supportive but reticent presence. Since Linda’s already had an illegitimate child, Dorothy monitors her daughter’s behavior closely, but even she’s initially won over by Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), the owner of a titty bar he calls a restaurant who meets Linda at a skating rink where she does a go-go routine and can turn on the charm effortlessly when required.

Linda eventually goes off with Traynor, who soon peddles her wares to two buddies in the porn trade, Gerry Damiano (Hank Azaria) and Butchie Peraino (Bobby Cannavale). Enthusiastic over her unusual talents, they cast her as the star of “Deep Throat” alongside veteran Harry Reems (Adam Brody), getting financial backing from tough guy Anthony Romano (Chris Noth). The picture proves a huge success, a crossover hit and cultural phenomenon that earns Linda the admiration of Hugh Hefner (James Franco), among others—though very little cash.

But Traynor’s anger at being increasingly excluded from decision-making stokes his fury, and he takes it out on his wife while trying to turn her newfound celebrity into a business he can manage, however seedily. His mistreatment escalates to the point that she seeks help from Romano, who’s happy to use his muscle since he has money at stake and little confidence in Traynor. An epilogue takes Boreman into the 1980s, when she wrote a memoir of her exploitation in the industry and became an anti-pornography crusader. And as usual in such docu-dramas, cards at the close tell us what happened to the various principals.

On the surface, the script by screenwriter Andy Bellin, based on Eric Danville’s The Complete Linda Lovelace, follows a familiar trajectory of rise, fall and redemption. And it certainly plays fast and loose with some details of Boreman’s life, presenting her as a far more naïve and innocent g kid than she actually was when embarking on “Deep Throat” and completely ignoring the serious auto crash that had a major impact on her later health. But the approach taken by directors Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who employ the conventions of romantic comedy, necessarily touched by darkness, in the picture’s first half, and then the devices of florid melodrama in the second, makes it more interesting than it would otherwise be. To be sure, the tactic leaves the makers open to the charge of sugarcoating the porn industry, which here is depicted almost lightheartedly; despite what Boreman argued in her later years, the source of her debasement here is not so much the business as her husband’s malevolent nature. But the stylistic choice at least represents a visual point of view that transcends a drab docu-drama style.

Seyfried gives a strong performance in the title role, and though Sarsgaard doesn’t fully capture Traynor’s combination of charm and malevolence, he gives it a good try. An almost unrecognizable Stone is gloomily convincing as Boreman’s rigidly religious mother, whose advice to her daughter when the girl flees her husband for the first time is cruelly old-fashioned, and Patrick plays nicely against type as her mousy husband. Azaria, Cannavale, Brody and Noth have a field day as the gang involved in making “Deep Throat,” and Juno Temple is amusing as one of Lovelace’s older colleagues on the movie. Apart from Franco’s serpentine Hefner, the film includes what amount to cameos by lots of recognizable faces—Wes Bentley as a photographer, Chloe Sevigny as a reporter, Eric Roberts as a polygraph expert. None adds much to the result, though they make it possible to play “name that actor.”

On the technical side, William Arnold’s production design is very good for a low-budget effort: he and costume designer Karyn Wagner manage a nice period feel, captured well by Eric Alan Edwards’ camerawork. A good deal of archival material is inserted in transitional montages, which helps to provide context but can come across as intrusive at times. Stephen Trask’s score adds some effective touches.

What “Lovelace” leaves out of its subject’s life is arguably more revealing than what it includes. But the spin it gives to the story makes for an intriguingly stylish, if incomplete, biography/cautionary tale.