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A well-versed love story for difficult times
by Michael Koch on Jun 30, 2005
After more than 100 years of cinema, you'd think that it's impossible to do something new with the medium of film that has never been done before, but British writer-director Sally Potter did it: she wrote an original screenplay entirely in verse, iambic pentameter to be precise, and created a contemporary drama in which her characters deliver their lyrical lines as natural as everyday speak. That's a first (remember, this is an original screenplay, not an adaptation of Shakespeare or some other Renaissance bard). As an audience, however, you don't even notice it at first, and once you do, you quickly go with the flow of this mesmerizing and visually stunning film.
Yes is the story of a passionate love affair between She (Joan Allen), an Irish-American molecular biologist and He (Simon Abkarian), a former Lebanese doctor who came to London years ago to escape his war-ravaged native Beirut. She is stuck in an unhappy marriage with an uptight philandering Blair-like English politician, Anthony (Sam Neill), who eases off his British ways by getting all Scotched up and playing air guitar to Eric Clapton and B.B. King. While He is stuck in a xenophobic society and culture that prefers to keep foreigners in check by relegating them to a lower-class existence, regardless of their skills or backgrounds. Together, they embark on a journey that is as sensual as it is political as they aim to cut through their prejudices in their desire to be with each other. At the heart of this journey, however, is a conundrum that afflicts both characters' cultures: the problem of a woman's freedom.
Potter began writing the script for Yes in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to counter the increasing demonization of the Middle East and the parallel wave of hatred against the West, especially America; the film admirably serves as an antidote to the destructive times in which we live. More than an instructive exercise in cross-cultural communication, however, Yes is also a work of art that mesmerizes with meticulously framed shots and a discriminating production design. Nothing is left to chance in Potter's carefully plotted scenario where lavish decorations or sparse interiors are not just decorum but trappings of the characters' feelings and desires.
Beyond the politics and art, Yes is also a deeply philosophical film that explores the duality of human nature through insightful and utterly delightful soliloquies by a housekeeper (Shirley Henderson), who ponders the meaning of life while removing unflushed condoms and specs of dust and dirt. If you've read this far and fear that this film might be a tad too heavy a dose for your amusement needs, don't say no to Yes so fast. Despite its complexities, the film never loses sight of the essence of cinema: to move and entertain audiences.
Yes will divide critics and viewers between those who dismiss the film as pretentious, ideological, and a vacuous exercise in style and those who genuinely share Potter's overarching philosophy of life and dream of a fairer and better world where people are able to remove the cultural and political obstacles that keep them apart. It takes leaps of faith to get there, but first you have to see this movie. It's an inspiration and well worth your time.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
by Michael Koch on Jun 30, 2005
Joan Allen as She and Simon Abkarian as He, image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Joan Allen as She and Sam Neill as Anthony, image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics