A walk onto the street, to get fruit and medicine, becomes a frantic run for survival for the unnamed woman played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani in The Patience Stone. Suddenly, there is an explosion. A truck full of militia firing automatic weapons tears around the corner, dust and damage everywhere.
The woman lives in a small house behind a walled courtyard, where she has two young daughters and a husband. He is lying comatose, a bullet in his neck, a tube with serum going into his mouth. The man (Hamidrez Javdan - not exactly a fun part) - is much older. She was 17 when she married him - or married a photograph and a dagger representing his presence. He was away.
And now, in this quietly fierce condemnation of fundamentalist Muslim society's treatment of women, she begins to speak truths she dared not utter when he was awake. The Patience Stone, adapted from the Atiq Rahimi novel and directed by the author - aided in no small measure by Thierry Arbogast's remarkable cinematography - finds the woman telling her husband about the men who fathered her daughters, because he was impotent. She talks of her longings, her rage. After weeks of these confessions, something stirs, breaks free. She meets a soldier (Massi Mrowat), and they make love.
In Persian mythology, the patience stone is a magical talisman that absorbs the worries and woe of those who confide in it. For the woman, her husband becomes that stone. It's a process of catharsis, allowing her to move on - and allowing the audience a glimpse into a culture of religious fervor, sexual oppression, violence, fear.
Although the country goes unnamed in this powerful, parable-like film, it is clearly Afghanistan, torn apart by war, a culture dominated by men, by mullahs.
But what comes across more than anything - in Farahani's character, in the wisdom and wild humor displayed by her aunt (Hassina Burgan) - is the resilience of women. Beneath the hijabs and the burkas that conceal them, a spirit burns fast and strong.
The Patience Stone *** (out of four stars)
Directed by Atiq Rahimi.
With Golshifteh Farahani,
Hamidrez Javdan, Hassina Burgan,
and Massi Mrowat. In Dari with subtitles. Distributed by
Sony Pictures Classics.
Running time: 1 hour, 42 mins.
Parent's guide: R (violence, sex, adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz Bourse and Carmike at the Ritz Center/NJ.