A war movie like no other, Atiq Rahimi’s The Patience Stone leaves no woe unturned as a woman rails against man and the theatre of war.
No Woman No Cry by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Based on Atiq Rahimi’s Prix Goncourt winning novel Syngué Sabour, The Patience Stone is the French-Afghani writer’s debut film. Not that you’d know from Golshifteh Farahani’s brilliant performance as the unnamed Woman crying her heart out to her dying husband’s body. It’s a plaintive cry against man and war, but with only a few off-stage explosions in the wings and some cursory dialogues with her daughters, neighbours and marauding soldiers, there’s something very theatrical about Atiq Rahimi’s The Patience Stone set almost entirely in one room and comprised of an outpouring of monologues. There’s no time nor place to Rahimi’s timeless story of a war widow caring and grieving for her mortally wounded husband. And yet, as it gives a voice to a woman silenced in a man’s world, there’s a refreshingly contemporary slant to Atiq Rahimi’s story – delving beneath the burka to give this Woman a story of her own.
In a war-torn country somewhere in the Middle East, a penniless and unnamed woman (Golshifteh Farahani) is spending her last money on serum for her bullet-wounded husband (Hamid Djavadan). The frontline is getting closer and dispatching her daughters to family across town, the Woman keeps vigil over her comatose husband, pouring out her heart to his body lifeless as a stone. She’s visited by the local imam, who she sends away saying it’s her time of the month, and the house is stormed by soldiers, who spare her “unclean” body after she pretends to be a prostitute. But constructing a bastion of cushions around his head or hiding her husband’s body, she retreats from the war zone every night only to return the next morning in the hope that one day her troubles might just have gone away.
Taking its title from the legend of a mystical black stone which absorbs secrets and suffering before shattering (much like Tony Leung stuffs his pain into a hole in Angkor Wat at the end of Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood For Love), The Patience Stone is a metaphor for the troubles and strife of a young mother and wife in a war-torn country in the Middle East (with a striking resemblance to Afghanistan) – her corpse-like husband lying with a bullet in his neck for three weeks, moribund like the country – the victim of his nation’s battles. His wife is left impoverished and alone on the front lines, tentatively grasping at and at the same time fearful for her new-found freedoms – unleashed, unsilenced and unveiled. And it’s an agency that gathers such force, that by the end of the film it finds its climax in a murderous frenzy as her husband comes momentarily back to life.
Bringing the battles and skirmishes between militia, collaborators and soldiers into the domestic space of a living room and a couple’s relationship, The Patience Stone is at once quietly profound and profoundly quiet. Atiq Rahimi allows us to guess at the political realities behind the metaphor as the Woman finds herself unable to escape the fog of war, raped by a soldier after declaring herself a prostitute. But like Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Wadjda it lifts the veil on a Muslim woman’s secrets – sex, masturbation and her fears of being married off by her father as the stake in a quail-fighting bet as well as the conjugal lies of menstrual blood during her first night of marriage and the children she conceived with a (fertile) man in her (sterile) husband’s place.
Like the Arabian Nights, it’s a man that compels this Woman to speak – in this case by her husband’s passive silence. And even though she’s interrupted by the explosions and marauding soldiers of war, still she returns to her tale time and again – to tell her story and expunge her past. She wants to open her husband’s eyes to the truth like a prophet, and when he awakes it’s without illusion – like the patience stone brought to life before shattering. A culmination of revolutionary acts – from stripping her husband naked to embarking on an adulterous relationship with the stuttering, gate-mending soldier, The Patience Stone exposes the battle of the sexes as the man is reduced to an object while the Woman becomes active, dominant and alive. And as an intimate tragedy of a life unravelled, Atiq Rahimi’s The Patience Stone brings a burning poignancy to this theatre of war.
The Patience Stone is released on 6th December 2013 in the UK