UK / USA, 2004
Review by Beth Gilligan
Posted on 17 February 2008
Source Sony Pictures Classics DVD
Categories The Lyricism of Sally Potter
“He” is from Beirut, a former surgeon, now working as a cook in London. “She” is an Irish-American scientist trapped in a miserably unhappy marriage to an English politician. The plot trappings may sound familiar (indeed, the attraction of opposites has been the fodder of romantic dramas and comedies for decades), but the execution is far from it: in this instance, writer-director Sally Potter has her unlikely lovers speaking to each other in iambic pentameter, underscoring her preoccupation with how people communicate in an increasingly fractious world.
In an interview given to Cineaste around the time Yes was released theatrically in the United States, Potter stated in regards to her script, “Part of the goal was to evoke a state of mind in which people are thinking and feeling simultaneously, and not just one or the other—reflecting on their emotions as they’re having them, a state of loving detachment really.” It is a testament to the talent of the actors, notably Joan Allen and Simon Abkarian (who play “She” and “He,” respectively) that the words flow (for the most part) naturally. Still, the cadences of iambic pentameter are difficult to ignore entirely, and as result the dialogue comes across as much more pointed than it might under regular circumstances. At times, this has a near-comic effect; for instance, early on in the film, there is a scene “He” finds himself embroiled in a lively debate (in iambic pentameter) with his fellow kitchen-workers (who include a feisty young East Ender, a Jamaican who is a born-again Christian, and a gruff, middle-aged Scot) about what women want.
Yet, for all her emphasis on the power of words, Potter does not rely entirely on speech to communicate the intricacies of the relationships she places onscreen. Throughout the movie, she employs different film speeds and stocks to convey the feeling of each individual scene. “Her” house is always shot in cool, blue hues that emphasize the sterile environment and state of the marriage at hand, while the film’s ending depicts the warm, colorful vistas of Havana, where the two lovers reunite. In addition, as in Orlando and The Tango Lesson, Yes features a score composed by Potter.
While Potter by no means downplays the emotional bond the lovers share, her interests seemingly remain vested in the divided world around them. Written as a response immediately following the events of 9/11, Yes openly engages in the fear, prejudice, and anger raised in the aftermath of the incident. “Terrorist,” “Imperialist,” “Bigot,” and “Bitch” are among the words He and She toss at each other during one especially heated argument, and Potter similarly does not shy away from having her characters vocally grapple with issues ranging from faith, body image, fidelity, nationality, politics, ethics and class.
In the end, even her tendency to throw out more questions and ideas than she can possibly tackle in one film seems oddly appropriate in the context of this film, for as the omnipresent housekeeper puts it:
And, in the end, it simply isn’t worth Your while to try and clean your life away. You can’t. For, everything you do or say Is there, forever. It leaves evidence.
In Yes, it all feels like a divine mess.