She (Joan Allen) is an Irish-American scientist, who is feeling neglected by her philandering, politician husband Anthony (Sam Neill). She meets He (Simon Abkarian), a former Beirut surgeon, now working as a cook, and they begin a passionate affair.
Other characters include her confused niece Grace (Stephanie Leonidas), her dying aunt (Sheila Hancock) and the observant cleaner (Shirley Henderson), who keeps her eyes on the trail of evidence her employers leave behind them.
Review by Louise Keller:
Pretentious or artistic? Those who know Sally Potter's works (Orlando, The Tango Lesson, The Man Who Cried) will recognise her non-conformist daring in her latest film, simply titled, Yes. It's a contemplatory essay reflecting on life, love and relationships. Music and style play a lead role in this moody and poetic glimpse into the lives of troubled characters. As do religion, culture and sex. Scripted entirely in verse, which the actors deliver as if normal dialogue, the result is a rather stilted theatrical piece which fascinates rather than connects, largely due to the compelling performances from a magnetic cast.
Joan Allen's lonely, neglected wife is simply called She. She is hardly Everywoman, although women may relate to her emotional void. Allen's intelligent portrayal allows us to understand her loneliness and longing for affection. The emptiness in her life with Sam Neill's cold diplomat Anthony, is clearly on display ('I've learned it's best not to feel,' he explains). It's as if she is wearing a sign around her neck that tells the world she is craving affection, during the embassy dinner, when Simon Abkarian's He notices her. 'A woman left alone,' he muses... and a torrid affair begins.
The scenes that work best are those that involve our emotions: Allen and Abkarian, Allen and Neill. There's also an engaging scene in which Allen's She reassures her niece Grace (Stephanie Leonidas) about her self-image. And a scene with a dying aunt when her voice echoes how 'fate delivers upside down and back to front'. But scenes set in the kitchen, where the former Beirut surgeon now working as a chef, are a strange mix. He is chopping parsley and capsicums, while chatting to his Scottish, Jamaican and Irish colleagues about religion and politics. The verse sticks out like a mouldy vegetable. And there are the scenes in which Shirley Henderson's cleaner talks to the camera explaining that as a 'dirt consultant', we all leave a mess - from discarded nail clippings to spots on the sheets that should not be there.
Yes is a visceral film that is both hypnotic and irritating. The emotions that are canvassed are real, but Potter's style includes many things that seem to be for effect only, such as the long passages with no dialogue in which music takes over our emotions and slow-motion cinematography lingers and peers through empty wine glasses. Yes and No.
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CAST: Joan Allen, Simon Abkarian, Sam Neill, Shirley Henderson,
PRODUCER: Andrew Frieberg, Christopher Sheppard
DIRECTOR: Sally Potter
SCRIPT: Sally Potter, Robert Falconi
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Aleksei Rodionov
EDITOR: Daniel Goddard
MUSIC: Sally Potter
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Carlos Conti
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Potential
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney/Melbourne/Adelaide: October 27, 2005