Director: Atiq Rahimi
Despite the best efforts of the Taliban, who denounced film-making as a Western evil and closed down cinemas across the country upon their rise to power in 1996, I found a good many Afghan titles to choose from for my first entry. Apparently, there has always been a strong demand for movies in local languages like Pashto and Dari, and they’ve been making a comeback in recent years, which is very encouraging to see.
I’ve picked The Patience Stone, which was selected as the Afghan entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2012 but which did not make the final shortlist. The director is Atiq Rahimi, an Afghan-born filmmaker who learnt his craft in Paris, making documentaries for French television. This is his first narrative feature.
The film opens in a sparsely decorated room in a small village in a war-torn Middle Eastern country. The country remains unnamed throughout. This story is not about war or politics.
The room’s inhabitants are a married couple, also unnamed. The husband is a former Jihadi, reduced to a vegetative state by a bullet in the neck. His family has fled the conflict already, but in his condition he cannot be moved. Had he been killed outright, his wife would have been married to one of his brothers and taken with them, but as he is still alive, it is her duty to stay and care for him.
She washes his face, feeds him, prays for him, and hides him in the wardrobe whenever enemy soldiers come knocking. The majority of the film takes place in this single room. Set out almost like a stage play, the film becomes a character study of the woman. Empowered by her once-dominating husband’s total vulnerability and inability to respond, she confesses all of the frustrations and desires that she has been forced to keep suppressed for years.
It’s a testament to Golshifteh Farahani’s performance that these one-sided conversations with a comatose man never become dull. She’s the focus of every scene – in fact, almost every shot. When she recounts her suffering and her loneliness, her struggles as a woman in a deeply patriarchal culture, it’s compelling and moving.
Apparently Farahani was banned from returning to her home country of Iran after posing nude for a French magazine. According to government officials, “Iran does not need actors or artists like you”. If the talent on display in The Patience Stone is any indication, I think that’s their loss.