An unnamed Irish-American scientist ('She') is disillusioned with her marriage to Anthony (Sam Neill), who is more interested in his political job – and other women. Fed up with his affairs, she falls for an unnamed Arab cook ('He') and begins a torrid sexual relationship with him. But the contempt 'He' perceives as a Muslim immigrant in the UK causes him to break up with 'She'.
It has taken a while for British director Sally Potter's latest featureYes to make it to our shores, a film simultaneously greeted with derision and anticipation at 2004's Toronto International Film Festival for the simple fact that its dialogue was written – and spoken by the actors – in verse. Sounds like a modern-day Shakespeare perhaps? Or another movie indulgence by Potter who has had her fair share of detractors for making out there art movies like Orlando (1993), which featured a woman (Tilda Swinton) playing a man, then a woman, who lived over a four hundred year period. However, her deeply personal film, The Tango Lesson (1997) – in which she starred – won Potter as much enthusiastic critical praise as it did fans, and she continued her musical theme in her last feature The Man Who Cried (1999), a WWII gypsy-set love story featuring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci (which in my book was superb).
Potter continues to meld music, film and dance in Yes. She may well have made one of the best films of the year. Interestingly watching the film you don't seem to notice the stylisation/presence of the verse, which in the wrong hands could certainly have made Yes unbearable. It is seamlessly integrated into the fabric of the film, and quite possibly is the perfect way to tell this beautifully flowing, passionate and political love story.
Joan Allen (The Upside Of Anger, The Bourne Supremacy) plays an Irish-American woman, 'She', trapped in a cold marriage to Anthony (Sam Neill). Pining for love and craving for some meaning in her austere London existence (she's a high powered biological researcher), 'She' begins an affair with 'He', Simon Abkarian (Ararat), a former surgeon from Lebanon now working as a sous-chef in an upwardly-mobile London restaurant.
The performances and the chemistry between them are mighty. The affair is passionate but not without conflict, and a gateway into the ideas Potter is eager to explore. A dialogue about East and West, relationships, the British class system, the female body, the purpose of one's existence, dirt (!) and science versus god, all ensue. And all spoken in verse and narrated by the cleaner, a ribald Shirley Henderson (Bridget Jones' Diary)! It might all sound like art house conceit but Yes isn't as dour or serious as all that.
This film is fun and while it plays as a beautifully put together, emotionally satisfying romantic drama, ironically it is probably closer to the commercial end of the movie-making spectrum than might be credited. It is a film where the academic agenda is integrated with its entertainment. Which is not to take anything away from Yes. It's the bomb, and another example of why Sally Potter is one of the most surprising and accomplished filmmakers working today.