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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


 The Patience Stone


Directed by Atiq Rahimi (2012)

Her father loved his quails more than his children. He used to fight them, like pocket-sized fighting cocks, and once, after losing heavily, he paid off the bet with her elder, 12-year-old, sister by marrying her to the 40-year-old man who'd won.

Angered, she released her father's favourite quail from its cage and fed it to the cat. In spiteful ingratitude the cat scratched her face, leaving a scar that would remain a badge of her defiance.

The unnamed protagonist (Golshifteh Farahani) of The Patience Stone, a French/Afghan collaboration now on limited release in the UK, tells this story, her story, to her husband (Hamid Djavadan), who has been wounded in a meaningless mountain war, by someone on his own side by all accounts, and lies comatose in her living room.

He becomes her patience stone, according to Persian myth a stone you tell your troubles and secrets to in order to eventually free yourself from your burden.

Between dodging bullets, as her house has become the frontline, and visiting her aunt in the north, where she's taken her two small children for safety, she spills the beans about what it means to be a woman in Islamic society, what it means to be the wife of a man who uses her “like a piece of meat” and has never even kissed her. Never asked about the scar, either.

A couple of things happen. Two soldiers turn up, and to avoid being raped by the older one she tells him she's a prostitute. Tells him a few times, actually, before it sinks in, as communication is difficult between the sexes.

It works, but his young comrade returns to do business and she's raped anyway, but at least gets paid. All the while her husband lies behind a curtain in the same room.

Oddly she gains some power over the stammering boy. For the first time since the quail incident she is able to take control, expressing a vivid sexuality that breaks free from her official, sanctioned relationship with men.

Is the patience stone working? Or is it something to do with her aunt (Hassina Burgan), who has revealed something of her own shocking story?

She struggles with her sense of guilt, smearing on bright red lipstick, smearing it off, smearing it on again. She is, for moment, mad Sister Ruth in Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus.

As The Patience Stone reaches its stunning climax we feel the surge of liberation, and a certain horror, too. In every oppression there is resistance, yet in this world freedom must pay a price.

February 27, 2014

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