A hint of Pinter, a pinch of Persona and several tablespoons of Sophia Loren’s Oscar-approved suffering in Two Women; Atiq Rahimi’s screen adaptation of his own novel isn’t designed to be a nod-wink art-house pastiche, but it certainly hides its influences in plain sight. Set in an unspecified Middle Eastern country that’s beset by perpetual jihad and bears a strong resemblance to Afghanistan, the film follows an unnamed Muslim woman (Golshifteh Farahani) who tends to her husband (Hamid Djavadan); ever since he caught a bullet in the neck, the elderly man has remained in a catatonic state. When she’s not fending off visits from the local mullah or shielding her children from random bombings, the wife is using her mute spouse as a “patience stone”: an object that one can hurl invectives at and speak the truth to. Out come the tales of abuse, arranged marriages, patriarchal strife and the terror of life during wartime.
These one-way therapy sessions make up the bulk of the movie, at least until a young soldier (Massi Mrowat) mistakes the wife for a belle du jour—at which point the psychosexual games start in earnest and you remember that Buñuel’s old collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière is the other credited screenwriter. His characteristic contributions add several intriguing wrinkles to what is essentially an impeccably composed, deliberately paced litany of the evils that men do against females, though not enough to keep the film from occasionally feeling like both a trumped-up theater monologue and a one-note screed. Better to think of this as a star vehicle for Farahani, who almost single-handedly carries the film; the range the Iranian actor displays here proves that she’s destined for bigger things. Fans will just have to be patient.
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