In a decrepit bomb-damaged house in a war-torn country ….probably Afghanistan ……an unnamed young woman in her mid thirties is struggling to take care of her two young children and also her much older husband who was seriously wounded in a battle. A bullet in his neck has reduced him to a comatose state, and as they have run out of money to buy any drugs, he is kept alive by the glucose drip she has rigged up, and by her extraordinary patience.
They have been abandoned by all his family who have escaped to a safer area, and even his fellow combatants and are now totally alone in what has now become the front line of the fighting. She manages to track down her Aunt, who has survived as an independent unmarried woman in this fiercely Muslim country by working as a prostitute and she provides a refuge for the children, and some support/encouragement for her to go back and sit it out with her husband.
Left alone with his motionless body for company all day, the woman starts to open up and speak the truth to her silent husband. Something she would never have dared to do had he been conscious. She tells him about her childhood, her frustrations, her dreams and her innermost secrets. Emboldened by the relief she feels in letting go, her confessions get more extraordinary and audacious as she rails on about this old man who never tried to understand her, or ever showed her any respect or kindness, and so often mistreated.
According to Persian mythology ‘the patience stone’ is a magical black stone that absorbs the plight of those who confide in it, and that is exactly what the woman is now doing. She goes even further and even confides to her husband about the young stuttering virgin soldier who mistook her as a prostitute and how she has been finding happiness in helping him with his sexual awareness and teaching him how to pleasure her. And if that is not enough, she finally confesses about the long-held secrets about the paternity of their daughters.
The movie written and directed by Atiq Rahimi based on his own award winning novel is a powerful feminist tale. To take aim like this against a repressive religious patriarchy in a set up where the men literally have no voice, is completely ingenious. We share every sliver of all the emotions that the woman feels from her bitterness to her downright anger in being forced to have silently accepted her role as her husband’s property to do with exactly as he pleases. It’s a potent and compelling performance by Golshifteh Farahani, an exceptionally gifted Iranian actress who is no longer welcome in her home country since she posed nude in a French Magazine last year. The success of the whole piece lies squarely on her shoulders, a task that she rises to so totally.
It’s a movie that every woman should see …. if nothing more than to empower you to find your own ‘patience stone’ and tell a few home truths to your partner even if he isn’t comatose.
P.S. This is Afghanistan’s Official Submission for Best Foreign Picture Oscar.