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The Afghan 'The Patience Stone' overextends a minimalist premise

Golshifteh Farahani stars in "The Patience Stone," playing a woman who delivers extensive, anguished monologues to her husband as he lies comatose.

Golshifteh Farahani plays a woman talking to her comatose husband (Hamid Djavadan) in "The Patience Stone." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics Golshifteh Farahani plays a woman talking to her comatose husband (Hamid Djavadan) in "The Patience Stone."
Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

‘The Patience Stone’
Director: Atiq Rahimi
Stars: Golshifteh Farahani, Hamid Djavadan
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

Golshifteh Farahani is the kind of beauty who’s easy to take for granted. On a superficial level, she doesn’t look like the kind of person who would prove a rebel. But she is. After escaping Iran, she’s protested its restrictions from the outside, sometimes using her beauty as a political weapon. (She’s repeatedly posed nude, resulting in one charge to cut off her breasts.) She’s only somewhat overextended in “The Patience Stone,” an Afghan production in which she’s more or less the main draw, and often the only thing to look at — she and the comatose man with whom she shares an apartment.

Farahani plays the harried, long-suffering wife of an older man (Hamid Djavadan) recently shot and stuck in a coma. While bullets fly outside in a war zone even the local mullah is loath to visit, Farahani — billed only as “the woman” — tends to her wheezing husband, who subsists on sugar water fed through a tube. With nothing else to do, and finally with captive company, she begins to talk to him, or at least to herself. She unloads — about her miserable, disappointing life, about his abuse and about her sexual fantasies, on which she goes into fairly explicit detail.

Perhaps inevitably from being a series of monologues peppered with the odd visit or memory, “The Patience Stone” suffers from feeling like staged theater. It’s actually based on a novel, and has been directed and adapted by Atiq Rahimi, its author. Either way it’s rarely very “cinematic,” even with a co-screenwriter in the legendary Jean-Claude Carriere, who most famously collaborated with Luis Bunuel. Carriere’s input isn’t terribly evident; the film gently delves into the occasional flashback or lightly-presented fantasy, but is otherwise straightforward.

Farahani doesn’t try too hard, which is a good thing. Her monologues have an effortless quality that makes it unsure if she’s addressing her husband or just herself. (This is doubly impressive since she had to learn the language, Dari, her character speaks.) She looks the part, too: She’s always exhausted, often panting, as though she is about to keel over. But the film feels monotonous anyway, in part because Rahimi directs with little visual variation, and in part because the material never evolves beyond its basic set-up. Still, it’s passable — until the groaner of an ending confirms the worst suspicions.

 
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