Many people have probably entertained fantasies about a domineering person in their life being forced to shut up and listen for a change. For women in Muslim countries, however, that notion takes on much greater urgency, and The Patience Stone—adapted by the French-Afghan director Atiq Rahimi, from his own novel—makes it tiresomely concrete. Essentially one long monologue, the film does provide a welcome showcase for Golshifteh Farahani, an Iranian-born actress (now living in France) who previously distinguished herself in Asghar Farhadi’s About Elly and Ridley Scott’s Body Of Lies. But there’s only so much anyone can do with a conceit that amounts to a movie-length speech delivered to a coma patient.
Technically, the man in question—Farahani’s husband (Hamid Djavadan)—isn’t in a coma. Shot in the neck during a fight, he lies paralyzed on their floor, eyes open but apparently unable to communicate even by blinking. Farahani believes he can hear and understand her, though, and after depositing their kids with an aunt, she returns and proceeds to tell him everything she was never able to say out loud before, from her unpleasant memories of their wedding night to her frustration with needing his approval for every move she makes. Occasionally, the house is invaded by armed rebels, one of whom (Massi Mrowat) believes her when she claims to be a prostitute—a lie she tells to dissuade them from raping her. (The logic, though explained in dialogue, isn’t terribly clear.) And so she does sell her body, later telling her husband the details just in case he didn’t hear what was going on from the spot where she’s hidden him.
At first, the introduction of a third significant character seems welcome, if only because his presence interrupts the torrent of true confessions. But it’s here that The Patience Stone is revealed as a story of female empowerment written by a man, for whom her liberation must involve an alternative lover. (Significantly, Mrowat has such a pronounced stutter that he can barely speak himself and mostly behaves like a petrified teenager rather than a functioning adult.) Not only does Farahani wear a secret smile after sleeping with another man for cash (which she promptly, dutifully spends on medicine for her husband), but the movie’s risible grand finale finds her revealing a secret so upsetting that… well, just imagine the hokiest possible ending, as that’s precisely what happens. Islamic feminism deserves better than this.