Mr East Goes To The Movies 2013: The Patience Stone

by George_East on December 24, 2013

In ancient Persian mythology a patience stone is a  jewel which acts as a kind of confessor – you can tell it all of your fears, thoughts and secrets.   In Atiq Rahimi’s film of the same name, Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani (who was so good  as Sepideh in Asghar Farhadi’s brilliant About Elly) plays an unnamed woman in an unnamed muslim country in the grip of civil war.   Her patience stone, is her much older soldier husband who is in a coma having been shot in the neck.

The film, written by European arthouse veteran screenplay writer, Jean-Claude Carriere (perhaps best known for his collaborations with Luis Bunuel), is not at all what we have become used to in the films emerging from post-revolutionary Iranian tradition, even if like many of the films by directors like Jafar Panahi and Mohsen Makmalbaf,it is a film centered on the experience of women under Islam.

The Patience Stone was shot in the relatively liberal environs of Morocco and freed from many of the restrictions placed on films made in Iran is able to deal far more frankly with female sexuality that we are used to seeing in films from the more restrictive parts of the Islamic world.  It is a film which discusses adultery, prostitution, female sexual pleasure and masturbation.

It essentially has two inter-twined strands. Firstly, the backstory of the woman, her marriage to the man, the birth of her children – all of this is told in monologues and flash backs, as she confesses more and more to her comatose husband as the film goes on.   As time goes by we find out about her husband’s brutality and ignorance of her sexual needs – we find that she married him in his absence as a child as he was a ‘great warrior’.   We find that not much is what it appears – their daughters are not his.  He was infertile but everyone blamed her as the woman and she would have been got replaced and cast out – so her Aunt, a prostitute, arranged for her to see a ‘counsellor’.

Secondly, the current events – the civil war, the threat to her family and home, and to herself as a woman on her own with soldiers using her house as a refuge, her attempt to find a safer sanctuary by tracking down her Aunt, who has moved to the north of the unnamed city.

The woman will protect herself from rape by the commander of the soldiers who enter her house by saying falsely that she is a prostitute – her ‘uncleanness’ being a protection, though by making such a confession she puts herself at risk of death – ‘you call yourself a Muslim, I should stone you now’, the commander shouts at her.   This claim, taken at face value, by a shy stammering soldier (himself brutalised by the commander), will lead to the woman actually trading her body for money.  As he is a virgin, she will teach him how to please her and as a result he knows no different.  This is in sharp contrast to her husband, for whom female sexual pleasure is unIslamic.

The hypocrisy of the men who keep her Aunt and her fellow prostitutes in business but who are prepared to kill women who themselves are forced into trading sex for money, when their husbands are killed in the endless civil war, largely prevented as they are from earning any other living, is plain to be seen.  Women are only able to survive by secrecy and lying, and through the assistance of other women complicit in their deceit.

It is then a tale of survival of a woman in a hostile and potentially deadly environment.  By not naming the woman she also represents women generally.

It is a remarkable piece of feminist cinema, with at its heart an extraordinary performance by Farahani.

My only real criticism of it is that it is a little too stagey.  This is a consequence of the central conceit of having the woman set out in a series of explicatory monologues to her husband her background and history.   It feels as a result as something that would have worked just as well as a play and those bits that take it outside of the realms of a play, such as the tank shell coming through the wall of her house, feel a little contrived to make it less play-like.

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