"The Patience Stone," based on the best-selling novel by Atiq Rahimi, has been made into a powerful, hypnotic, often remarkable film by the Afghan-born author, who directed and co-scripted with venerable screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière. But it's the flesh-and-blood lead performance by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani as a profoundly conflicted Muslim wife and mother that seals this cinematic deal. She's superb.
Set in an unspecified war-torn country (the media notes call it "Afghanistan or elsewhere"; characters also go unnamed) this dream-like tale finds a beautiful, impoverished young woman (Farahani) left alone to tend her much older, comatose husband (Hamid Djavadan), the victim of a bullet to the neck who's lying at death's door in their crumbling home. With their two small daughters left in the care of the woman's enlightened aunt (Hassina Burgan), the woman starts to tell her paralyzed husband the many dark feelings and secrets she's buried away during their 10 icy, deeply oppressive years of marriage. The harsh, often absent man who's never really talked to her is finally forced to listen — but, in his state, can he truly hear? And if he can, what will his reprisal be upon awakening?
The woman's increasingly wrenching confessional is punctuated by brief flashbacks, chats with her aunt, invasive bursts of warfare and, most significantly, an unexpected but transporting liaison with a haunted young soldier (Massi Mrowat). For a movie that spends so much time in one spot — at the husband's bedside — it rarely feels claustrophobic. On the contrary, it's more engrossing as it unravels.
Filmed mainly in Morocco (with exteriors reportedly shot run-and-gun style in less-welcoming Kabul), "The Patience Stone," named for the magical black stone of Persian lore that unburdens those who speak to it — until it destructively shatters from the "weight" — shines a startling, hugely affecting light on the desperate measures so many women must take to survive in the world's most mercilessly patriarchal cultures. The phrase "sad but true" has rarely seemed more apt.
"The Patience Stone"
MPAA rating: R for sexual content, some violence and language
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Playing: Laemmle's Royal, West Los Angeles