A French/Afghan co-production, The Patience Stone is based on a novel, but it feels more like a play: a one-way conversation between a woman and her comatose husband, confined to a single room as Afghan forces spray bullets just outside. Golshifteh Farahani is billed simply as “The Woman,” and certainly she begins the film defined by others solely as a wife and mother. But as the days pass with no sign of improvement in her husband’s condition, she begins to speak aloud, sharing her inner life with him in a way that was unthinkable when he was conscious. There’s an intriguing mirror in the anonymizing ways in which the man and woman have used each other as vessels. She pours her secrets into him because he can’t talk back, and we come to understand he has valued her as little more than a body in which to plant his seed.
Director Atiq Rahimi, who also wrote the bestselling source novel, is attempting something truly bold here – the dramatization of an orthodox Muslim Afghan woman blooming into a sex-positive feminist. The execution isn’t perfect: The early, cinema-verité-like stretches, rich with texturally detailed passing glances (such as kids playing in a bombed-out car), are superior to the overplotted, self-consciously composed third act. Still, there isn’t a false step from the quietly devastating Farahani; her tour-de-force performance carries the film through its rocky stretches.