“The existential question in the west is to be or no to be; in our country it’s to say or not to say, that is the question" says exiled Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, star of “The Patience Stone” — a movie that sheds harsh light on the treatment of women in much of the Muslim world.
The result is a choice: "You can stay alive, or you can die," Faranhi told the rapt audience at a screening Wednesday night at L.A.’s Landmark Theater, part of TheWrap’s Award Screening Series.
“Patience Stone” is part of a growing mini-genre of movies about the plight of Middle-Eastern women — which also includes 2008’s “The Stoning of Soraya M.” and HBO’s “For Neda,” about Neda Agha Soltan, who became a symbol of protest when she was gunned down during the unrest surrounding Iran’s 2009 election.
In it, Farahani plays a young wife caring for her older, catatonic husband, wounded in a war that rages around them in a desolate Afghan city.
Her work becomes cathartic as she pours out her woes on his deaf ears, investing him with her sorrows as in the Afghan folk tale about a "patience" stone that soaks up tribulations until it shatters.
And tribulations she has, as Farahani paints a portrait of the sexual humiliation her character has endured in order to stay in the good graces of a rough and indifferent husband.
“It’s a woman that wants to be free, free of the chains of tradition, free of all these pressures they were putting on her,” Farahani told the moderator, TheWrap’s Awards Editor Steve Pond, about her character. “This was really important for me.”
“We are telling just the story of one woman in Afghanistan,” emphasized the actor. “But it’s something that we have in common in all the countries, especially in Muslim countries.”
Farahani knows first-hand about injustice, having gone from being Iran’s biggest star to an exile in a few short months back in 2008.
For her, the year’s high point came when “M for Mother,” a movie she made several years earlier, became Iran’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.
But then, that same year, she played opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Ridley Scott’s “Body of Lies.” Her appearance without a traditional headscarf on the red carpet at the New York premiere drew unwanted attention from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in Tehran who wound up taking away her passport.
“The problem was just cooperation with Americans,” Farahani told the audience. “The movie wasn’t out yet. They didn’t know what the movie was about. They just said, ‘No, you’re our actress. We don’t want you to work with Americans.”
She fled Iran for Paris and hasn’t returned since.
Farahani prides herself on choosing movies that aren’t afraid to confront authority, including 2009’s “About Elly,” directed by “A Separation” Oscar winner, Asghar Farhadi.
Banned in Iran at first, the critically lauded movie about social coercion and moral choices was surprisingly endorsed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and went on to win the Silver Bear in Berlin.
“The Patience Stone” is an Afghan/German/French co-production based on the novel of the same name by Atiq Rahimi, who directed from a script he co-wrote with Jean-Claude Carriere (“Belle de Jour”). It was picked up in Toronto by Sony Classics and is Afghanistan’s official entry in the 2013 Oscar Race.
Asked if she ever dreams about winning the Academy Award, Farahani joked, “No, not at all! You better not have hopes and you will never get disappointed. But if it happens, it’s wonderful.”
One thing she does hope for is that she will be reunited with family back in Iran, a possibility that recently became more remote.
Faranhi was nominated for a Cesar Award last year for her role in the comedy “Si te meurs, je te tue.” In a video for the Awards earlier this year, Farahani bared her right breast and uttered, “I will put flesh to your dreams.”
The resulting tumult back in Iran saw censors calling for an all-out ban on Farahani, though how this punishment varies from previous measures, the actor isn’t quite sure.
When asked if she expects to see her family again, Farahani’s dark eyes grew brighter, “Of course, when things change a little bit.” Then she darkened again, “But for the moment, no.”