Symbolism runs deep in the modern Afghan film, "The Patience Stone," directed and co-written by Atiq Rahimi, who also wrote the successful novel on which it is based. The performance of Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani is one of the most startling you will ever see.
Though her emotions are largely internalized, we can feel every shiver of helplessness and hopelessness in her deep, dark eyes and tightened jaw.
The film's setting is a desolate and shattered dirt road village, presumably in Afghanistan though it is never identified. War's ravages have taken their toll, with bombed out buildings and only a few villagers scuttling about in the background whenever Farahani (she is only called "the woman") runs between her threadbare apartment and her aunt's better furnished home down the street.
Her aunt, we learn later, runs a charming brothel which takes pride in keeping all the soldiers content.
"Men who don't make love, make war," is the aunt's cynical motto.
But what Rahimi and French co-writer Jean-Claude Carrière really have in mind is dramatizing the injustice, particularly against women, that fills Islamist fundamentalism. Foolish pride takes a beating, too.
At the very literal heart of the film is Farahani's dilemma. A mother with two small children, she has been deserted by her family and her husband's family. Her husband lies paralyzed and comatose on a pallet, unable to move or speak.
But his injury wasn't from the war, though he was once a fierce soldier. During the calm between battles, he got in a bar fight because someone insulted his dignity. A bullet went into his neck. Now he is helpless.
But Farahani feels it is her responsibility to care for him, even though we learn that he has always been cruel to her.
The story is the wife's own mental struggle in isolation as she begins talking to her husband about daily subjects, but soon finds her talking gathers momentum as she describes her personal struggles at his uncaring hands.
Flashbacks to her arranged marriage (when he wasn't even present, he was off fighting somewhere), and other customs that seem so arbitrary to our minds, fill in the details of a harsh life for women in this culture.
The resolution of her bleak circumstances is also handled symbolically, though in an artistically satisfying way.
In real life, Farahani is an Iranian exile with a history of running afoul of the Islamic Republic through her art. She fled the country in 2008 and has since settled in Paris. Her film career includes a sizeable role in the Ridley Scott thriller, also about Middle East terrorists, "Body of Lies."
Director and writer Rahimi fled his native Afghanistan years earlier, during the Russian occupation.In Persian, with subtitles.