|Simon Abkarian and Joan Allen in "Yes."|
Rhyme doesn't pay
Sally Potter's "Yes" is a personal exploration that suffers, rather than gains, from being written in rhymed verse.
By LESLIE (HOBAN) BLAKE
Although her visions are uniquely her own, Sally Potter's measured compositional style and pictorial techniques often bring to mind her fellow British filmmaker, Peter Greenaway. While his background is in art and hers is music and dance, both these auteurs share a penchant for striking visuals and increasingly oblique ideas.
Greenaway, for instance, has used skin several times whether baked ("The Cook The Thief His Wife & Everyone We Know") or removed ("Pillow Book") to make a particular point about the human/inhuman condition, while Potter has tended to focus on women, both fictional ("Orlando") and autobiographical ("The Tango Lesson").
|Written and directed by: Sally Potter.|
Cast: Joan Allen, Simon Abkarian, Sam Neill, Shirley Henderson, Sheila Hancock, Samantha Bond, Stephanie Leonidas, Gary Lewis, Wil Johnson, Raymond Waring.
Cinematography: Aleksei Rodionov.
Edited by: Daniel Goddard.
Related links: Official site
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Seattle Film Festival 2005|
Both directors are also writers, which allows each to move deeper into his/her private visions. For Greenaway, the ultimate has to be his recent three-part saga, "The Tulse Luper Suitcases," seen at this year's Tribeca Film Fest, and for Potter it's "Yes," seen at Cannes.
With that single syllable, the first word of Molly Bloom's glorious soliloquy as well as the last word of Joyce's monumental "Ulysses," Potter has slammed a curveball straight into left field. For "Yes" is written in the rhymed couplets of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Moli¸re, for no discernible reason.|
It's a contemporary tale of adultery and love story with geopolitical aspirations, featuring two characters named "she" (Oscar winner Joan Allen, a credible alter-ego stand-in for Potter herself) and "he" (Lebanese stage and screen actor Simon Abkarian think a young Omar Sharif). Since most of the others in the film have names, these unnamed characters are a bad sign.
The cast handles the dreaded rhyme scheme with varying degrees of success. As in many of Moli¸re's rhymed epics, "Tartuffe" or "The Imaginary Invalid" for example, Potter opens with a sassy maid, here called "cleaner" perhaps for some egalitarian reason and played with exceptional skill by Shirley Henderson. As the "cleaner" sets the scenes to follow and comments throughout, one scarcely hears the rhymes, which is as it should be. In Henderson's mouth, the poetry exists but doesn't intrude.
However, not all the actors are as adept as Henderson. Best of the rest are Sam Neill as Allen's philandering husband and veteran British stage actress Sheila Hancock as her dying aunt. Abkarian's own accent works well enough against the rhyme scheme but Allen is all sing-song in her delivery. To be fair, her particular lines are written as sheer doggerel, leaving the actress little room to speak them as normal language.
| ||Shirley Henderson in "Yes."|
So one must question Potter's choice to write in verse at all. In the press notes and her introduction to the book (yes, there is a book!) she says, "The film is about the rhyming of contradictions," whatever the hell that means! She also speaks of 9/11 and Iraq, which brings to mind another word: "hubris."
Not only are her protagonists mere symbols, they are pretentious symbols as if because Allen's neglected wife comes from Northern Ireland and Akbarian's ˇmigrˇ from Beirut, Potter believes they represent some larger global truth. They do not.
Without its soundtrack (incidental music by Potter as well), the two lovers do make an exotic (if somewhat less than erotic) visual pairing which the director displays to great effect. But Potter will have them speak, and their story with or without the couplets is banal beyond words.
|JULY 3, 2005|
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