x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Between a rock and a hard place at Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2012

The death of a promising young poet - at the hands of her own husband - inspired the author and director Atiq Rahimi to write The Patience Stone set to show at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival this week.

A scene from the movie The Patience Stone which will be screened this week at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Courtesy ADFF
A scene from the movie The Patience Stone which will be screened this week at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Courtesy ADFF

The Patience Stone is the second time that Atiq Rahimi has adapted one of his own novels for the screen. Born in Afghanistan, the 50-year-old bohemian poet, author and director previously adapted his 2000 novel, Earth and Ashes, in 2004. The Patience Stone, however, had a more complex genesis.

Rahimi explains: "In 2005, I was invited to a literary conference in Afghanistan organised by poets and writers, one of whom was the great and young poet Nadia Anjuman, and one week before I left for this conference, it was cancelled because Nadia had been killed."

Anjuman's husband had killed her after her collection of poems Gul-e-dodi (Dead Red Flower) had been successfully received in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. The husband confessed to battering his wife, with whom he had a six-month-old daughter.

"Sometime after, I went to Afghanistan and I wanted to see the family, but no one would see me," says Rahimi. "Her husband was in prison and then he was sent to hospital in a coma and it was at this moment I had the idea of doing a book based on [their story]."

Yet as soon as he began writing, he discovered that it was not the husband that would be the narrator. "I wanted to start with the point-of-view of the man, but when I started to write, it was the woman who dominated," Rahimi recalls.

The story evolved to be that of a woman who finds the courage to confess her sins and digressions to her husband, a war hero, only when he is in a coma after he was shot in the head. The events take place in one room and the overriding feeling is of claustrophobia, something that seems more suited to stage than cinema.

It's why Rahimi agreed to a cinematic adaptation only when the screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière said he would not stay true 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."

Yet the main conundrum was finding an actress who could portray the many faces of the character - she goes from happiness to despair and madness to lucidity on the turn of a word.

Rahimi says he initially wasn't interested in Golshifteh Farahani. But the Iranian star, now living in France, refused to take no for an answer. "In the beginning, he wouldn't see me, but after he saw About Elly something changed," recalls the 29-year-old actress, referring to her 2009 drama About Elly, directed by Asghar Farhadi. "I told him that if he doesn't give me the part then I would play it in the streets - no one can stop me acting in the streets. It's a role most actresses dream of doing, with all her monologues - it's quite challenging."

One of the most important aspects of playing the part was that she would not be seen as being a victim. Farahani explains: "This character is not an Afghani woman as we expect her to be; this woman is her own self and that is why everyone is saying that they feel no pity for her. Usually when we see women in Middle East [films], we feel pity, like they are victims.

"In the beginning of this movie she is a victim and you expect to see her be more and more of a victim, but she comes out of it."

Rahimi says that he is not a sociologist and does not intend for there to be any great analysis of society in the picture. "I wanted to show a film that is a tragedy of a human being. So the problem is that when a film comes from a certain country, it is always argued that it is a sociological film. But that's not what we are doing, just as we cannot say when we watch Rambo that all Americans are like Rambo."

Nonetheless, the film is sure to stir up emotions and controversy, something the director doesn't shy away from. "I hope it is controversial. I hope it annoys some people and makes them ask questions," he says.

The Patience Stone screens tonight at 9.30pm at Marina Mall's Vox 6 Cinema and on Wednesday at 2pm, also at Vox 6. A ladies-only screening will be held tomorrow at 3.45pm at Vox 1 Cinema.