Keswick Film Club - Reviews - The Patience Stone

Reviews - The Patience Stone

The Patience Stone

Reviewed By John Porter

The Patience Stone
The Patience Stone
While a curtain printed with birds in flight hangs in a traditional apartment, the war continues outside. Armies are unnamed, and their causes are seemingly unimportant so long as their actions rage. The Muslim man on the floor is the victim of a bullet lodged in the back of his neck, getting his nutrients from a drip, and a woman we take to be his wife cools his face with a cloth. Already we are drawing conclusions from what we can see. Minutes later we learn that the drip is merely sugar and water - the pharmacy will advance no more credit for serum. Throughout the movie, the conscience and views of the woman become more and more externalised in both speech and body language, continuously forcing us to alter our conclusions, and so our perspective on the story. In this way, Atiq Rahimi's "The Patience Stone" gradually becomes an exercise in revealing; a revealing of secrets, a revealing of character, situation, the fallibility in judgment, and ultimately a revealing of the liberating power of secrets themselves and the lives that they hold.

The man's eyes stare without life, and the woman begins to talk. Everything in this movie begins on a knife edge, every word seemingly unsure of whether it is allowed to be heard. Her speech is no exception: at first it is tentative, falteringly conversational and bordering on the mundane. As time progresses it turns into confessions, accusations, and admissions, the wonderful performance by Golshifteh Farahani as the woman managing to maintain the impression of baring her soul in soliloquy without it ever seeming theatrical or contrived. This delicacy in building up the profoundness of the script allows it to remain believable. It does not happen instantaneously. We are discovering facets of a person as if making a new friend.

The jihad conflict too, grows ever more prominent in the shaping of our story, the woman eventually having to flee with her children to a safer area of the city, returning to her husband to resupply his drip but possibly staying for the enlightening effects of pouring her truths onto her very own patience stone. Her soft voice is everywhere. On the most obvious level, while she tends her husband we watch her talk, her eyes wandering, the walls of the room not holding what she speaks of. However we also hear her in narration to the husband while she is at her aunt's house across town, and we even hear her voice overlaid onto her actions when she is back in his room and not speaking to camera. Rahimi's choice to separate the woman and her speech and mix this in with the scenes of her directly talking gives her conscience an all pervading atmosphere, and intensifies the impression of her freedom and empowerment being something blossoming to full growth.

This is a slow, measured work with a pacing that glides along and accumulates with ease. As more secrets are told, the woman's past, which is revealed to have been one of repression and subservience, takes shape on screen. With opening up about her position, her courage also grows to reverse it, often in a sexual nature. She kisses her husband, something she has never done before, and later puts her hand in his trousers. Her greatest awakening however comes during an affair with a younger and virginal militiaman, who after initially raping her is taken under her wing having being led to believe that she is a prostitute. "He is a fast learner," she tells her mute husband, "he does not get angry like you would have done".

The colour schemes throughout the movie are underexposed in tone, yet feel lush and exotic like the Persia of old from where the Patience Stone myth originates, and much of what we see is either the crumbling stone of walls or the fabrics of costume, both having textures which benefit from this choice. We are seeing things that are somehow familiar, yet in a new and thoroughly tangible light.

It is the concept of "The Patience Stone" however that is it's real charm. Working so closely beside existential myth (if a tree falls in a wood without anyone there to hear it, does it still make a noise?), yet in an immediately recognisable and realistic setting, it manages let each tinge the other. It is this combination of the folkloric and it's real life implications that provides its unique ambience. The movie is rife with implications of allegory, images of birds and cages littering the narrative, in one section the woman even describing an episode when she had set a cat on her father's quail to save herself a beating only to have the animal turn upon her instead, yet these moments are never made so explicit that they seem forced, and so retain their sense of vague mystery. Once again the movie is treading back and forth the line between the real and the uncanny, eventually reaching it's frenzied and inevitable climax.

This weekend sees the Keswick Film Festival arrive for the fifteenth year with thirty five movies beginning on Thursday and continuing throughout the weekend at the Alhambra, Rheged and Theatre by the Lake.

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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