The Patience Stone
"The Patience Stone" was Afghanistan's official entry into the Best Foreign Language Film category at last year's Academy Awards, and it's easy to see why. It is extremely well directed (by Atiq Rahimi, writer of the book on which this film is based), sports an extraordinary performance by lead Golfshifteh Farahani as The Woman, and concerns a tough topic. All that is great, but -- and I hate to say this -- the film is, well, kind of boring.
The movie concerns The Woman (no first names are given, underlining the parable likeness of the story), who lives as the property of her husband, The Man. Her husband has been injured in Afghanistan's continuous warring, and lies in a vegetative state in the couple's modest home. The Woman spends her days cleaning her husband, keeping his hydration tube filled, and otherwise caring for him. She's all he's got left; the members of his family have either died in the ongoing fighting, or left the area entirely.
These early scenes are effective in showing the hardships heaped upon those innocents caught in the crossfire of a war-torn country. In addition to caring for her husband, The Woman must maintain the home, raise the couple's two young daughters, and risk death simply by walking to the local pharmacy to procure medication for her husband. All of this, mind you, on no monetary income.
With no one to talk to and no social interaction whatsoever, The Woman begins to unload her thoughts about her life and predicament onto her husband, who, due to his state, is her de-facto captive audience. She begins to relay stories about her youth, her upbringing, their life together, and her trials with living as one man's property. As time goes on the Woman reveals deeper thoughts, and some very dark secrets come to light.
The title derives from a Persian legend, which says that The Patience Stone will absorb all of the pain and troubles of those individuals who speak to it. Once the stone has absorbed all of the pain it can handle, it will explode and that person will be set free. In this film, The Man has, literally, become The Patience Stone, absorbing The Woman's fear, pain, and turmoil. It's an effective allegory and a very good story. Is it cinematic, however? Not entirely.
I have always felt that motion pictures should contain a certain amount of visual flair in order to keep the viewer engaged in physically looking at the screen for two hours. Even serious dramas (a category to which "The Patience Stone" definitely belongs) can have a visual quality that allows the term "motion picture" to be applied. How does the camera move to keep the picture from visual stasis? How is the narrative employed to keep the story in progress? How does the movie move?
With the exception of the first 20 minutes or so (as well as some brief interludes with The Woman's aunt), the movie is essentially The Woman talking to The Man. The camera goes from her face, to his, back to hers. Maybe she gets up once in a while and walks around the room. "The Patience Stone" probably makes for a wonderful read, not to mention a sucker punch to the dramatic gut. But as a movie, it feels like a book.