just saw sally potter’s Yes and i’m fairly blown away. i’m surprised no one has posted on it yet (though the ever reliable jeff mentioned it in an earlier post!). this is my first sally potter, so i won’t be able to put it in perspective, but what a film! it is decidedly striking, for one, that she should have chosen to have the whole damn thing in rhymed iambic pentameters, and that she wrote every damn word herself. since the delivery is not as crisp as if it had been on stage, and since a fair number of the actors have regional or foreign accents, i assume potter knew we would not be able to get everything. but the two leads, joan allen and simon abkarian, do a pretty splendid job of portraying their characters’ emotions, so whatever you miss in the diction comes through in the body language.
joan allen is a nameless wealthy american of irish origin (she lived in belfast till she was 10) who lives in london with her english husband (sam neill), while abkarian, whose character is also nameless, is a lebanese surgeon who, in england, works as a chef. the two fall in love and have a complicated affair. the complications of the affair result, atypically, not from the usual entaglements of husbands and double lives, but from the cultural differences between allen and abkarian. as a fair-skinned, blond american, allen portrays a character who, somewhat subverting gender roles, is single-mindedly and guiltlessly immersed in sex and love, while the delicate character abkarian portrays cannot detach himself from the political, moral, and personal implications of his love affair with a woman who embodies everything that denies his identity. while allen rhapsodizes about the delights of her lover’s body, abkarian tries to draw her into his world and culture, with scant success.
all this is complicated by the fact that allen is guilt-ridden over not visiting a dear, ailing, communist aunt who still lives in belfast. allen comes thus to represent individualist detachment from community values and social responsibility, something that eventually leads to a serious crisis between the two lovers.
potter shot the film in london, havana, the dominican republic, belfast, and lebanon around the time the US and england invaded iraq, and the shadow of this aggression hovers powerfully over the whole film, giving it a gravitas and poignancy that i found incredibly moving. as i said, it is particularly effective that the blithe and irresponsible one should be the woman, while abkarian is decidedly feminine in his sensitivity and hurt. this is done very subtly: neither is allen harsh or silly, nor is abkarian effeminate. to the contrary. but potter makes clear that we do carry with us the weight of the place our countries occupy on the chessboard of contemporary history, and, in the case of the blond american, confronting this weight requires some serious and painful work.
i loved that the film was in verse. this, and the amazing cinematography, make this very political love story an incredibly sensuous affair. this is not unconnected to the fact that abkarian is immersed in food all day — while, on the other hand, allen hardly ever eats, and her house is so spotless and spare it looks uninhabited.
i think the sensuousness of the movie steers potter away from the murky waters of an overly ideological film, while it is indeed refreshing that political identities should be represented as the stuff of life and love. i love, in other words, that this should be a political love story, and that the political tragedy of wars and terrorism should be played on the bodies of these two tender, passionate lovers.