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.