Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Patience Stone

The Patience Stone (in Farsi with English subtitles) was Afghanistan’s official entry for Academy Award consideration for last year's Oscars, though it did not receive an Oscar nomination. While the exact location of our tale is never directly identified in the film, it readily becomes apparent that it's a war-torn Muslim country (quite possibly Afghanistan) where we witness the ravages of war on the city’s landscape; in its crumbling building facades and constant sound of explosions both near and far. The film focuses on an unnamed young woman tasked with the sole care of her much older husband left in a comatose state as a result of a recent violent altercation.

Abandoned and left to her own devices by her husband’s family, she resolutely cares for the uncaring man to whom she’s been married for the past 10 years, when at the tender age of 17 she was married by proxy to his sword since he was absent fighting his latest jihad. As she caringly cleanses his body and sees to his needs, she is at times angry and despondent and unlike the past 10 years where her own cares and worries have been silenced, she now gives voice to her roiling emotions for as she states, he is the wounded but she is the one left suffering. Her diligent care is at times interrupted by mortar attacks, and as the windows rattle and bombs hit their targets, she scrambles to get herself and her two young daughters into the makeshift bomb shelter next to their home. Even in these instances his care is her utmost concern, as she sneaks out of the shelter mid-attack to check on his condition and put pillows around him and drops in his always open vacant eyes.

With recourses scarce she must resort to giving him water with sugar in a makeshift IV of sorts. Desperate and afraid she at times tells him to go to hell and at others cries on his chest begging him not to leave her alone. A lifeline comes in the form of her aunt, a more modern and liberated woman who helps care for our heroine’s young daughters so she can brave marauders and bombs alike to continue to care for her ailing husband. Through it all, she speaks and he listens (for a change). It is during one of her daily respites at her aunt’s home that she learns of the fabled patience stone; a magical and legendary stone that if found you can place before you and tell it of your suffering. The stone it is said listens to everything you never dare say to others until one day the stone shatters into pieces and that day you’re delivered of all your pain. Hearing those words our heroine realizes that is what her husband has become, her own patience stone and so each day as she cares for his body, she shares her darkest secrets, the silent yearnings of her heart and body in hopes that she will find both peace and redemption.

This was an engaging and thought-provoking film; simple yet powerful, it is for all intents and purposes a one-woman show featuring a tour de force performance from Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani. The Patience Stone’s tale speaks to the abhorrent treatment of women and their status as lower class citizens in many Muslim (and non-Muslim) nations. As our heroine shares the tortured memories of past mistreatments, as well as the general sense of isolation and pent up frustrations and denied joys, we empathize with her plight and as time passes revel in her newfound sense of self and true worth.

Farahani was amazing in this role. Her beauty alone would be enough to capture your attention but it is her understated but moving portrayal of a woman on the verge of self-discovery that demands praise. Our heroine’s transformation is slow and Farahani’s performance is measured throughout; as her confessions are at first abashed and resigned and later as she grows in her own strength they become more recriminating and brutally honest. Farahani is so believable in her performance that as you take in each scene, you feel a voyeur’s guilt, as if you’re listening to someone’s solemn confession.

I’ll give fair warning that if you’re looking for a fast-paced action film, The Patience Stone is NOT that film. It is at times plodding and at all times solemn, but it is equally eye-opening and moving. As American women we take for granted the rights conferred upon our fair sex by our society. We forget that there are women still today that are treated as less than merely on the basis of their sex.

The Patience Stone shines a light on the plight of many and the need for change. I draw a measure of hope though from the mere identity (both nationality and gender) of the film’s director, Atiq Rahim, who also happens to be the author of the novel on which the film is based, a French-Afghan man willing to hold both his fellow countrymen and his country’s patriarchal society accountable for their actions and attitudes and in so doing greases the wheels of change.