Some experiences can be profound. So profound that it can drive you to desperation. A desperation that may bomb you out of your senses or bloom into an artistic urge. For Afghan director Atiq Rahimi, an extraordinarily disturbing occurrence in his life pushed him to the pen. And later to the camera. His words formed The Patience Stone, which eventually transformed into images.
Rahimi told the media here that just before a literary conference at Kabul in 2005 – to which he had been invited – a young poet, Nadia Anjuman, was killed. The meet was cancelled. Nadia’s husband, enraged over her collection of poems (Dead Red Flowers), had murdered her. The man was sent to prison where he fell ill and slipped into a coma. It was at this moment that Rahimi was inspired to write a book based on the tragic tale of Nadia.
Part of the ongoing Abu Dhabi Film Festival, The Patience Stone is the second of Rahimi’s efforts to adapt his own novel to the screen. The first was Earth and Ashes.
Born in Kabul and forced to take political asylum in France after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Rahimi is often viewed as a Bohemian poet, author and helmer. And it is not surprising that The Patience Stone, though set in Afghanistan and telling the story of an Afghan woman, seems so French, particularly in the way its protagonist, played by Golshifteh Farahani, thinks in the movie. Not surprising again, for she is an Iranian actress exiled from her own country and now living in Paris. An unmistakable European sense and sensibility cannot be missed.
The Patience Stone is part of a Persian myth about a stone that has this phenomenal strength to listen to stories of suffering and sorrow – till of course that moment when it cracks and breaks.
In the film, the woman is seen tending to her comatose husband with a bullet in his neck, and as the plot progresses, she begins to confess to her husband. Most of it is virtually daring and scandalous. So outrageous that it has the power to shake a man out of his slumber, however deep it may have been. The Patience Stone ends on a note of sheer drama that contrasts beautifully with the rest of the movie, which despite its moments of excitement and fear runs a rather placid course.
Rahimi avers that he toyed with the idea of turning his words into visuals when Jean-Claude Carriere agreed to write the script, promising to find newer dimensions to the book. . "I didn't just want an illustration of my book," says Rahimi. "I wanted to discover other dimensions of the woman through cinema. Different mediums bring different aspects to the story." A rare writer indeed, for most of his ilk would abhor the very idea of a novel being reinterpreted for the screen.
There was this great novel, and there was this great scriptwriter, but where was the actress to play a character who was controversial in every sense. And not just this, but also one who could emote joy as she could sorrow, as she could madness, despair and what have you.
Interestingly, Farahani was not Rahimi’ first choice to play the part. But she was bent on clinching that role. If Rahimi was adamant about not taking her on, she was determined to get him to agree. She threatened to enact scenes from the novel on the streets of Paris if Rahimi would not take her. But then when he saw About Elly by Asghar Farhadi, where there is a wonderful portrayal by Farahani, Rahimi began to change his mind. “It is a role most actresses dream of. It is so full of monologues, and so challenging” she gushes.
The Patience Stone is certainly unlike most films that emerge from the region. Farahani’s character is not shown as a victim, which is why one does feel any great pity for her. But her lines and experiences are bound to stir a conundrum of controversy.
Is that not what cinema ought to do?
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.)