YES

Directed by Sally Potter. UK/USA. 2001/4.


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk
 
 


 
 

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Sally Potter's sumptuously photographed meditation on the cycle of life, love, identity, race and religion is told in Shakespearian style "iambic pentameter" prose. Not quite a modern take on Shakespeare - his writing would be more like Quentin Tarantino does the West Wing if he were around today - but a fascinating screenplay none the less and, if there is any justice in the world, it will surely be recognised at the Oscars.

She (performance of a lifetime from Joan Allen) is a scientist, dealing with the very stuff of life while stuck in a loveless marriage to her adulterous husband (Sam Neil). They live a house as spartan and sterile as their childless marriage, her only joy is acting as an adult confidant to her teenage goddaughter. A chance meeting with romantic Middle Eastern chef, He (Simon Abkarian), seems to offer the pathway to a more poetic existence…

These are characters dealing with life from opposite ends of the spectrum. While She examines sperm cells and eggs under a microscope, He, we later find, is a qualified surgeon from Beirut, now reduced to chopping meat in a restaurant. The couple's erotic and tempestuous affair examines cultural identity in post 9/11 London (significantly, filming started on 12th Sept 2001 and the film was released shortly after the London bombings).

Ultimately, it's a film about saying YES to life and how diversification adds poetic substance to our otherwise stale lives. Even the microscopes used by She to examine our multiplying and mutating genetic code have a life of their own, the lenses appearing as bulbous alien eyes under their dust mask covers. 

Dirt here is not something that can be swept away, but is regenerative and needs to be confronted. Images of cleaners occur throughout the film, frantically trying to clear up the emotional mess the characters leave in their wake. The ever-wonderful Shirley Henderson, as She's maid, provides a kind of Greek chorus commentary, her delightful monologues neatly top & tailing this lyrical film. 

The rhyming dialogue, far from being a gimmick, adds metaphorical clout to the script without distracting from the performances in any way. Praise also to Sam Neil for his air guitaring to BB King and Eric Clapton, one of the most memorable cinema moments of the year.

Patrick Bliss
 
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