Collateral Damage :: Novelist Atiq Rahimi Talks ’Patience Stone’
"The Patience Stone," a moving, hallucinatory drama from a Kabul-born Afghan expatriate, provides a new way of seeing war’s collateral damage. A young woman trapped in an arranged marriage must feign being a prostitute to escape rape, and a young soldier is hideously abused by older male warriors.
It’s no surprise that today’s digital generation filters its news through ever-smaller screens. Atrocities, especially from the region my parents thought of as the "Holy Land," are far more tolerable in miniature. The last real newspaper, today’s New York Times, would probably seem to my folks like a disturbing amalgam of Henry Miller, Franz Kafka and Hieronymus Bosch. When the news is unbearable or unimaginably obscene, the artist must step up, and only a large screen will suffice.
In "The Patience Stone," a beautiful young woman finds herself trapped between the war raging just outside her tiny provincial Afghan apartment and the odorous task of tending to a brutal husband she has come to despise. Her husband, a one-time Jihadist, now lies comatose, a bullet lodged in his neck. Resisting the temptation to flee with her young daughters, the woman keeps the saline drip flowing into the barely breathing ruin of a man, occasional poking her finger into his wound to see if he feels any pain. The woman starts to funnel her fears and growing rage into a stream-of-consciousness monologue, telling the enemy her deepest secrets.
"They’ve all left: the brothers who worshipped you; the mother who wanted a lock of your hair. The cowards! I spit in your mother’s pussy! They all left. The Mullah won’t come because he’s afraid of stray bullets. How can you live with a bullet in your neck? You’re wounded, and I’m in pain! If only a stray bullet would finish you off!"
Bestselling novelist Atiq Rahimi finds a way around one of modern cinema’s most perplexing dilemmas: How to dive deep inside a character’s head. Rahimi permits his young heroine (a mesmerizing turn from Iranian-born Golshifteh Farahani) to imagine the man in front of her as a human version of their culture’s magic stone, and to share her true feelings about their arranged marriage. She was married at 17 with only a framed picture of her husband away at war; she slept next to her mother-in-law, who watched over her virginity. With the action largely confined to a tiny apartment surrounded by the sounds and chaos of war, the woman finds her voice and a sudden burst of freedom, including a shocking affair with a young soldier, himself a victim of their culture’s cruel patriarchy.
"That poor boy, his heart was beating very fast. I almost started to giggle. I thought of what my aunt had said when I told her about his stammer and that he came way too quickly. ’Why don’t you have him fuck with his tongue, and talk with his dick!’ "
Forced after the 1980s Soviet invasion of his country to go into exile, first in Pakistan, more permanently in France, Rahimi has become adept at reaching a global audience with both novels and films in English, French and Farsi. Offered the chance to bring his 2008 novel, winner of France’s top literary prize, to the screen, Rahimi reached out to Jean-Claude Carriere as a co-screenwriter.
Needing a way to transcend the novel’s device of having the action confined to a small room and filtered through the brain of the grievously wounded warrior, Rahimi begged his French collaborator to "betray me." The result is a film re-imagined from the woman’s point of view. It’s opened up to include scenes with her wily survivor aunt - the only relative who hasn’t fled the scene, who earns her living as a prostitute - and a couple of armed Jihadists, one an abusive "commander," the other a stammering boy barely into his late teens whom the commander humiliates in public, and viciously scars and rapes in private.
At a screening of The Patience Stone in the S.F. International Film Festival, I quizzed the English-fluent Rahimi about how radical Islamist forces disenfranchise women and employ same-sex abuse against young men.
Your film is told from a different point of view from your novel.
I wanted to be inside a man who can see and hear everything, but cannot move. What’s important is what he’s thinking. When an Afghan man listens to his wife tell her secrets, her erotic dreams, what would he think? The book becomes not a monologue, but a dialogue between her and the silence of the man.
It’s startling when she begins an affair with the young soldier.
She finds her body, her desires, becomes a real woman.
She discovers that he has been abused by older men, with cigarette burns all over his body.
All the mujahedeen have a young guy with them. Why? Because they were at the front in the war, the woman was not with them, so the young guy becomes a tradition. During the Soviet era, the resistance fighters created these academies where the boys were separated from family and friends and had only the older soldiers. This is something very evil in Afghanistan.
But this is not homosexuality like you see in America and Europe. It is not by choice. We don’t ask the young guy, do you have this desire? This kind of story you can find in all Arabic/Muslim countries. It’s about perversity, not love.