Reviewed by: The Exile

A meeting of soul mates, disguised as an attraction of opposites, Sally Potter's Yes is also a sensitive observation of racism, classism, imperialism and fundamentalism. And if that sounds like a lot of "isms," they're only the tip of the narrative iceberg, which also encompasses aging, alienation and the precarious relationship between identity and sexual power. Yet, amazingly for a film so teeming with ideas, it unspools in clean, lucid scenes of near Spartan simplicity.

Opening in London and closing in Havana, the film follows the love affair of two exiles, known simply as He (Simon Abkarian) and She (Joan Allen). He is a Lebanese surgeon, who has fled Beirut and now works unhappily as a hotel chef. She is an Irish-American biologist, trapped in an icy marriage to a faithless English politician (Sam Neill).

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"Each cell knows its destiny," she muses enviously, hovering over a petri dish. But it will take almost the length of the movie before she surrenders to her own.

Until that point, Yes is immersed in the desperate passion of two people grasping the lifeline of erotic love as a placebo for much deeper emotional needs, and here Potter's flair for movement fully surfaces. Her absolute faith in the expressiveness of the physical body infects the normally cool Allen with a libidinous grace, making her scenes with Abkarian wickedly earthy - most notably during a bout of heated restaurant foreplay. For his part, the sensual Abkarian (best known to arthouse aficionados as the Armenian painter Arshile Gorky in Atom Egoyan's Ararat) is the perfect foil for Allen's pale elegance. Every time these two are together, the film swoons with an undercurrent of risk.

Always a suggestive visualist, Potter is also fascinated by language. Yes is written almost entirely in iambic pentameter (10 syllables to a line), delivered so fluidly and unaffectedly audiences may not even notice. Potter admits to being influenced by her background as a lyricist and composing the script as if she were writing a song. The result is a potent, rhythmic dialogue that invests key scenes with near-operatic power. Most crucial of these is an argument, staged in the echoing anonymity of a parking garage, which serves as the film's fulcrum and turning point. He has begun to rebel against the secrecy of the relationship and his pride has made him long for the familiar sexual dynamics of his homeland.

"Love distracts us," He complains, as the appeal of the exotic transforms into claustrophobia. "I have remembered who I am."

Easing the intensity is the delightful Shirley Henderson, playing a philosophical maid, who's fond of delivering humorously pungent, direct-to-camera soliloquies on the ubiquity of dirt and what it reveals about us. Functioning on one level as Greek chorus ("They leave each other notes, but rarely speak," she whispers, as She and her husband move silently behind her), the character also symbolizes the tide of service people - usually ethnic, always invisible - that swirl around us.

The film portrays life from the particular to the universal, from dueling organisms in a petri dish to the enormity of war itself. Fluid, fearless and ferociously intelligent, Yes is a master-class on how to approach a hot button topic.

Ultimately, we shouldn't be surprised that the first ever recipient of the Satyajit Ray Award - for the director with the most "uncompromised aesthetic vision" - continues to prove those judges right.

Reviewed on: 05 Aug 2005
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A lonely microbiologist embarks on passionate romance in verse with Middle Eastern cook.
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Read more Yes reviews:

The Dude ***1/2
Chris ***1/2

Director: Sally Potter

Writer: Sally Potter

Starring: Joan Allen, Simon Abkarian, Sam Neill, Shirley Henderson, Sheila Hancock, Samantha Bond, Stephanie Leonidas, Gary Lewis, Wil Johnson, Raymond Waring

Year: 2004

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK/US


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