2005, R, 100 min. Directed by Sally Potter. Starring Joan Allen, Simon Abkarian, Sam Neill, Shirley Henderson, Sheila Hancock, Samantha Bond.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., July 29, 2005
A post-9/11 cross-cultural love story spoken entirely in iambic pentameter? For the less adventurous moviegoer, that might sound like the cinematic equivalent of a root canal without anesthesia. But while the unconventionally filmed Yes doesn’t fully realize all of its artistic ambitions, its depiction of romantic passion resonates with a genuine feeling that can’t be dismissed. Potter has always been a filmmaker to color outside the lines, and in Yes, she employs a host of film techniques to distinguish her film from those in the local cineplex: stop-motion photography, streaming video, odd camera angles, and superimposed imagery, to name just a few. There doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason for Potter’s choices in this regard; she’s like a film student drunk on exploring what the camera can do. Happily, those choices don’t detract much from the film’s narrative about an affair in London between an unhappily married American biologist (Allen) and an expatriate Lebanese sous-chef (Abkarian). Reflecting current anxieties manifested by the situation in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, the relationship in Yes is one in which personal and global politics intertwine once the initial euphoria of mutual attraction begins to fade. While Potter tends to intellectualize the affair, there’s no question that these two people find something in each other that goes beyond a brief flirtation. The actors handle the dialogue’s poetic rhythm with aplomb, avoiding sing-song recitation and often finding a near-Shakespearean beauty in Potter’s language. (Interestingly enough, much of Yes is wordless.) As usual, Allen is an intriguing actress to watch. Here, as in most of her films, her angular, bone-thin frame belies the formidable inner strength of her character. Like the film, however, Allen’s performance is cool and controlled, rather than red-hot and unrestrained. Though neither the film nor Allen fails in the portrayal of love’s intensity, a little messiness is in order here. Film newcomer Abkarian holds his own in Allen’s company, giving a heartfelt performance as a lost man re-emerging from self-imposed exile in more ways than one. Together, he and Allen form the heart and soul of Yes, with Potter serving as their experimental steward. While Yes defies film’s conventions in many, many ways, it’s still that same old story, the fight for love and glory.