The mythic and the modern collide in this Middle Eastern tale
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
The mythology of America lacks a spiritual or metaphysical component, separate and distinct from religion. America is a country of immigrants, each with their own cultures and traditions, and there is decidedly little mixing or melting of those classic stories to create something that could be defined as our own. Instead we settle for principles of hard work and the freedom to succeed despite your background, which results in dreams deterred, deferred and unfulfilled.
What I want though is something akin to the folklore that grounds “The Patience Stone.” Atiq Rahimi’s film samples old world fantasy, passed down from generation to generation in the story of a fabled stone that absorbs all of the pain and woe of life, all the while protecting the person sharing their dark tales during the telling. The stone soaks it in, bears the load until, once sated, it shatters and renders all of the collected troubles meaningless henceforth. Imagine what you could do with such an artifact. It certainly rivals the notion of three wishes from a genie or the pot of gold you might claim from a leprechaun, right?
Yet, Rahimi takes it a step further, setting his modern interpretation in Afghanistan (or another similarly war-torn part of the Middle East), and focusing on a nameless woman (Golshifteh Farahani), in her early thirties who watches over her husband (Hamid Djavadan), a much older man, a soldier reduced to a vegetative state due to a bullet likely still lodged in his neck. The woman struggles to survive the daily attacks in a tiny room with two children in her care as well. She receives little help from family; what support she gets comes from an aunt who works as a prostitute nearby. The woman worries that she may soon find herself with no other option than to resort to prostitution to survive, which would be the ultimate disgrace.
Living under such dire conditions, with no one to talk to, the woman begins to share her feelings with the husband. She opens up to him, disclosing her fears initially over the reality of her situation, but soon the dam breaks and she’s revealing her anger and frustrations over their relationship, the loveless nature of their marriage (at the time of their wedding, he was off fighting, so she stood next to a picture of him), her own unfulfilled sexual desires. It is the first time that she has been able to speak so freely to him, to unburden herself to him, and all he can do is listen. There is a real sense of liberation for her, although she wonders if he’s truly able to hear her at all. That matters little though, because the process is about this woman finding her voice and her self.
Along the way, the woman encounters a soldier (Massi Mrowat), a stuttering young man who, initially, wants nothing more than to finally have sex, but soon becomes, under the tutelage of our awakened protagonist, a giving sensual partner. They each transform into more fully realized versions of their true selves, although the process is much more clearly defined for the woman, thanks to the presence of her husband as her mythic artifact, but what will happen to this woman and her patience stone when it reaches its breaking point?
So often, Western stories explore the idea of characters seeking enlightenment or a sense of fulfillment in the face of unhappy or unpleasant situations, but here the stakes are higher, with real tension and drama, yet infused with the power of hope and magic that feels far more real and immediate. If only we could all find peace in patience stones of our own. I don’t know about you, but I would sacrifice the American myth for something like that any time.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com.