Directed by: Sally Potter | 100 minutes | drama, romance | Actors: Joan Allen, Simon Abkarian, Sam Neill, Shirley Henderson, Sheila Hancock, Samantha Bond, Stephanie Leonidas, Gary Lewis, Will Johnson, Raymond Waring
After the visually beautiful (but story-technically disappointing) “The Man Who Cried” (2000), director Sally Potter comes again with a story about “star-crossed lovers”. “The Man Who Cried” was about the love between a Jewess and a Gypsy, set against the backdrop of the Second World War. In “Yes”, which takes place today, the lovers are no longer in this together, their cultural backgrounds collide. “He” (as the male protagonist is referred to in the credits) is Arabic, “She” American (with Irish roots). And “She” is also a scientist, married to an English politician, while “He” had to give up his existence as a surgeon in Lebanon for a poor life as a cook in America. The lonely ‘She’ quickly falls for the charming ‘He’, but especially ‘He’ realizes – helped by his sometimes somewhat racist chef buddies – that such love in a time of the ‘War on Terror’ is less easy than a random other affair. Meanwhile, “She” has her own worries with her cold husband, her goddaughter who thinks she is too fat, and her Irish aunt who is dying. And then there is also a kind of “Greek choir” consisting of one adorable cleaning lady (beautiful role by Shirley Henderson), who communicates her thoughts about the world to the camera.
In a time of fear and hate, Sally Potter wanted to make a film about love, with humor and with poetry. Yes, there is indeed a lot of humor, without you being able to call the film a comedy. Scenes like the one in which the English politician dances through his sterile living room to a song by Eric Clapton and BB King, or those in which ‘he’ his lover in a restaurant is satisfied with his hand with a subtle humor that you don’t laugh out loud , but you have to smile. Equally funny, perhaps highlights of the film, are the scenes in the kitchen and of the cleaning lady, especially her last in which she compares the world to a tuft of dust. These scenes are especially successful because they use rhyme. All characters talk in rhyme throughout the movie, which gives it a very theatrical touch. That theatricality is further enhanced by the beautiful staging, in which the objects are arranged so perfectly and the colors match so well that it seems as if you are looking at a beautiful setting (which in principle you do of course). In addition, Alexei Rodionov (director of photography) indulged in strange camera angles, slow motion scenes and surveillance camera images. Scenes often resemble a dance, the movements seem to have been preceded by careful choreography.
Enough interesting to watch and – thanks to the good soundtrack and especially the rhyme – also interesting enough to listen to. Unfortunately, especially the rhyme in the more serious pieces often distracts from the content. The rhyme fits perfectly with the cleaning lady, her slightly melancholic comments become higher poetry and, moreover, she is already outside the story in her spectating role. It doesn’t irritate the chef’s buddies either, it gives their scenes an enormous dynamic, like a kind of rap with which they alternate. But when there is a heavy scene, with arguments and misery, it becomes irritating that you already know that the outburst of one will be followed by an answer in rhyme from the other.
The second objection to “Yes” is that Sally Potter — as in “The Man Who Cried” does not work out her subplots properly. The teenage godchild Grace has become a completely redundant character, no more than a character, because her storyline is not properly intertwined with that of her godmother.
“Yes” is a special film in which people act well, in a humorous way beautiful truths are proclaimed and in which beautiful images are created through all kinds of artifice. However, the artifice of the rhyme is too conspicuously present, because it is used continuously it becomes a disturbing gimmick, while in other places it adds so much to the sentences.