On the smaller front, we find a wife and mother (the character is unnamed) trying to keep it together in the midst of chaos.
The family home is in a battle zone where Taliban-like fighters regularly rake through the neighborhood. What's particularly alarming is that the woman's husband -- an older man she was forced to marry 10 years earlier -- has been comatose for two weeks, having sustained an injury in the conflict.
He might wake up; he might not. As she feeds him through a tube, she begins talking to him, an outpouring that becomes the movie's dominant drama, dwarfing even the combat going on outside.
It becomes clear that the wife has never been encouraged or allowed to speak her mind in this marriage, so there is a great deal of catching up to do.
Many of her revelations would have serious consequences in this traditional religious culture -- if they were heard by men -- but in the meantime, there are survival issues surrounding this one-sided conversation.
The woman scrambles to feed her children and survive the threat of assault from soldiers, and slips out for money and worldly wisdom from a scandalous aunt who works as a madam.
It isn't quite a one-woman show, but Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani's performance is a tour de force nonetheless.
Sweet-featured and heavy-browed (she's already gotten Hollywood's attention, in "Body of Lies"), Farahani is stunning in every sense, and her gutsy performance carries "The Patience Stone" through its overstated moments --though to be fair to the movie, nuance has never played particularly well to fundamentalists.
(As though to underscore the point, Farahani's work with moviemaking infidels has gotten her officially barred from returning to her native country.)
Kabul native Atiq Rahimi directs, having adapted his own novel with the help of the incredibly well-traveled screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, an expert in the business of making tricky material find a compelling flow.
Early in the film our heroine prepares to leave the house.
"I have to go out," she tells her unconscious husband. "Is that all right?"
It takes another beat for her to wonder why she is still asking permission -- but old dogma dies hard.
"The Patience Stone" (3½ stars)
A wife and mother tries to keep it together while her husband lies in a coma, their home assailed by a Taliban-like group in an unnamed country. She pours her heart out to the unconscious man, saying things that her religion would undoubtedly punish, a fascinating setup, strongly executed. And the tour-de-force performance by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani is stunning on every level. In Dari Persian, with English subtitles.
Rated: R for subject matter.
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