Atiq Rahimi’s second film, The Passion Stone, explores the meetings and divergences of duty and love in an almost folkloric fashion. The director was present for the first showing of the film at the San Francisco Film Festival on Monday. The film is based on the book of the same name, which Rahimi also wrote. Before the screening, he talked a bit about the syngué sabour (patience stone) that lies at the heart of the film. According to Persian myth, this mystical stone sometimes appears to individuals who are burdened. They tell their worries to the stone, unburdening their hearts in full. One day, the stone simply shatters. As it falls out of existence, so do the burdens and worries of the individual who has confided in the stone.
It’s a beautiful story that works as an eloquent metaphor in the film because it can speak to any of us. Though most of us will have the fortune of never knowing what it’s like to be a young Afghani mother trying to survive during a time of war, we can at least grasp what it’s like to wish for a patience stone of our own. At the heart of the film is a woman (Golshifteh Farhani) who must take care of her comatose husband and watch over her two young daughters while war rages outside her doorway. As she struggles financially and emotionally to keep everything together, she begins talking to her husband. She tells him so many things about her life; it even feels a bit voyeuristic to watch her running monologue in the theatre.
Farhani does an exceptional job of playing the young woman at the center of the film. Hassina Burgan and Massi Mrowat bring further depth and texture as two of the film’s supporting characters. As I sat in the theatre, I could sense those around me becoming intimately involved with these characters in much the same way as I was. Speaking after the screening, Rahimi marked that he doesn’t mean for The Patience Stone to be a study of Afghanistan or of the lives of women in Afghanistan. Instead, he said, it was simply a story about a woman trying to survive in a certain circumstance during a time of war. Deceptively simple, the concept carries well in a film that lovers of Iranian cinema in particular will find very enjoyable.