Movies Reviews by Michael Phillips

'The Patience Stone' Movie Review  | Movie Reviews Site

For centuries, poets and novelists have refashioned miserable real-life conflicts to their own poetic ends, from the harrowing lament of "The Trojan Women" (Euripides, fifth century B.C.) to the swoony romanticism of "The English Patient" (Michael Ondaatje, late 20th century).

In the movies, such allegorical-minded inquiry is less common, and not simply because the medium is relatively young. Cinema, or perceived cinematic taste, encourages make-believe realism more so than deliberately abstracted metaphor.

The war-scarred village we see in the "The Patience Stone" is in "Afghanistan or elsewhere."

While an unspecified war grinds on in the background, an unnamed woman, the mother of two girls, watches over her comatose husband in their barely furnished home.

For days, the man -- considerably older than his wife -- has been unable to speak, or possibly hear; he was shot in the neck by someone on his own side, the result of a fight after an insult to the husband's mother. The woman feeds her husband intravenously. She hasn't the money for real medicine. He lies still. The gunfire pops in the distance, and then sometimes very close.

Out of near-imprisonment comes a kind of freedom.

The woman pours out her thoughts, her long-suppressed feelings of resentment and abandonment and desire, to this shell of a man who may or may not understand what she's saying. The title "The Patience Stone" refers to Persian mythology, a story of a magical stone that absorbs the confessional burdens of the speaker until it can handle no more. With dogged clarity, it is made clear that the husband is the stone, and his wife, finally discovering her voice, is the one testing the stone's breaking point.

Other, emblematic characters come and go: the local mullah, promising the husband's recovery; armed soldiers, one of whom loots the not-quite-a-corpse of his wedding ring and wristwatch; and crucially, a young soldier who believes the woman to be a prostitute. The relationship that develops between the woman and this representative of the country's tenuous future may not have the ring of documentary truth, but "The Patience Stone" isn't interested in that.

"The Patience Stone," directed by French-Afghan writer and filmmaker Atiq Rahimi, comes from Rahimi's novel, a sensation in many countries.

He adapted the text with veteran screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere. Without bursting its tightly confined setting, or violating the near-monologue form, the writers allow for just enough movement, in flashback and present day, to prevent "The Patience Stone" from requiring the patience of a stone.

It is a tour de force for the actress, needless to say. Iranian Golshifteh Farahani is wonderful in the role, keeping her emotions in check except for at a handful of key junctures, while the words pour out to the extent that the character, at one point, says to her mute audience of one: "Why am I telling you all this?" The woman's feelings at long last become unbottled, and her strange circumstances free her from the fierce patriarchy that has kept her muffled in spirit for too long.

Shot in Morocco and, for its exterior shots, Kabul, Afghanistan, "The Patience Stone" crisscrosses between the lengthy scenes in the home with scenes in the home of the woman's free-spirited aunt, a larger-than-life figure given to grand, dangerous axioms such as: "Those who don't know how to make love, make war."

"The Patience Stone" is very strong on its own terms, though lacking, I think, the rough edges and true poetry of the great movies about war. It's a little on-the-nose. But "The Patience Stone" has Farahani, in nearly every shot, and in its meticulously paced way her movie-long confessional is something to see.

"The Patience Stone" Movie Trailer


About "The Patience Stone"

"The Patience Stone" Review - 3 out of 4 Stars

MPAA rating: R (for sexual content, some violence and language).

Running time: 1:42.

Cast: Golshifteh Farahani (The Woman).

Credits: Directed by Atiq Rahimi; written Jean-Claude Carriere, based on the novel by Rahimi; produced by Michael Gentile. An Sony Pictures Classics release.

In a country torn apart by war, Afghanistan or elsewhere .. A young woman in her thirties watches over her older husband in a decrepit room. A bullet in the neck has reduced him to a comatose state. He has been abandoned by his fellow combatants and even by his own brothers. One day, the woman's vigil changes. She begins to speak truth to her silent husband, telling him about her childhood, her suffering, her frustrations, her loneliness, her dreams, desires, and secrets. After years of living under his control, with no voice of her own, she says things she could never have spoken before, even though they have been married for ten years.

Her husband has unconsciously become syngué sabour (The Patience Stone) -- a magical black stone that, according to Persian mythology, absorbs the plight of those who confide in it. The woman's confessions are extraordinary and without restraint: about sex and love, her anger against a man who never understood her, who mistreated her, who never showed her any respect or kindness. Through the words she delivers so audaciously to her husband, the woman seeks to free herself from suffering. But after weeks of looking after him, she begins to act, discovering herself in the relationship she starts with a young soldier.

The legend of The Patience Stone also says that when it has absorbed all that it can handle, it explodes, causing the world to end. But, for one brave Afghan woman, it is a risk she's willing to take to unburden herself and be free.

The Patience Stone is adapted from the best-selling novel by Atiq Rahimi, director and co- writer, with Jean-Claude Carrière, of the film adaptation. The novel The Patience Stone has been translated in 33 languages and was winner of the 2008 Goncourt Prize, the most prestigious book award in France.

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'The Patience Stone' Movie Review - Stars Golshifteh Farahani

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