Movie Review by Dan Spiers
Starring: Joan Allen, Simon Abkarian, Sam Neill, Stephanie Leonidas
Director: Sally Potter
YES, written and directed by Sally Potter, was filmed, fittingly, as the second Iraq war began. It explores tensions between Western’ and Muslim’ cultures, touching on imperialism, fundamentalism and terrorism, using a relationship between an American woman and a Lebanese man as its vehicle.
The woman, known only as She’ (Joan Allen), is the wife of Anthony (Sam Neill), a philandering English politician. The two live in an atmosphere of barely disguised antipathy, in which they survive only by the aplomb with which they avoid each other. He spends his time politicking, whilst she invests her energies in touring the globe as a renowned molecular biologist.
Distressed and emotional at having to perform the role of wife’ at an official engagement, She’ is befriended by a waiter (Simon Abkarian). The waiter, known only as He’, is interested by a woman who looks miserable, but beautiful and who is interesting yet disinterested. She’ responds to his attentions and there begins a passionate, intense relationship that seems ideal, until cultural baggage ravages their union.
What is immediately striking about YES is that it is entirely spoken in verse. This could quite easily have been catastrophic, but though it is at times alienating, there is a lyrical grace to the script that manages to sweep you along, un-protesting, into the heart of the relationship.
When the film falters, it is when the actors bludgeon the audience with the meter and rhyme of the verse, but it is most affecting when they ignore the pattern and speak naturally. The script is beautifully crafted and both Abkarian and Allen revel in the luscious language they’re tooled with.
The film is book ended by two relatively short but significant scenes. Both feature the cleaner of Her’ and Anthony’s home, speaking directly to camera and delivering a treatise on dirt. It is rather funny, delivered in a conspiratorial whisper and acts as a kind of chorus to events. Essentially she reiterates what the film has been trying to tell us, that we are all linked by the same cycles of life and death that go beyond the isms’ that divide us.
There is much to commend about YES. It tackles weighty, topical issues in an unfamiliar style and due to the quality of writing, direction and acting is largely successful. The subject matter is of relevance to us all and though extended bouts of florid, often challenging verse proves testing, the film, in its life-affirming conclusion is worth the effort.