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The Patience Stone

The folkloric title of Afghan filmmaker Atiq Rahimi’s movie may seem to some people to refer to something they could use as they view it. Much of The Patience Stone is devoted to monologues by its unnamed lead character (Golshifteh Farahani). The greatest part of the speech the movie gives her is in the form of ruminative soliloquies, ostensibly directed to the immobile, verbally, and perhaps mentally incapacitated husband she’s tending to as the picture begins. He, we eventually learn, has been shot while fighting in a war whose history and combatants are never divulged.

This young woman hovers protectively over her prone husband, and cringes at explosions outside, and the sounds of armed bands on trucks firing their rifles as they speed through the streets of the unidentified city. One day, emerging from the cellar where she’s sought refuge, she finds three of her neighbors have been brutally executed by marauding members of the occupying militia, and she flees with her two small daughters to an aunt’s place. But this is only a detour in the movie’s unhurried but fateful course. The title refers to a fabled stone to which a person can confide fears and sins. When the stone cracks, it will deliver the confessor from guilt and fright. The stone is, of course, a metaphorical element, one that contributes to a striking, somewhat enigmatic and rather arbitrary denouement.

Presumably, most Americans will be ill-prepared to evaluate the authenticity of The Patience Stone’s Koranic references and depictions of Islamic cultural practices—some in flashback. Atiq and his veteran French screenwriter, Jean-Claude Carrière (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie), seem to have been aiming for an Asian feminist parable. (The several male characters, with one exception, don’t come off well.)

The picture can seem frustratingly obscure and dilatory, but it’s expertly assembled, and it creates a surprisingly engrossing quality, even as it annoys and mystifies.

Watch the trailer for The Patience Stone

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