Sally Potter, the writer and director of Yes, has Something Important to say. Sadly, whatever message she was attempting to deliver gets lost among the gimmicks that call too much attention to themselves. It doesn’t help that the main characters are hollow ciphers asked to carry the burdens of their respective cultures.
The main gimmick of Yes is that all of the dialogue is written in iambic pentameter, the same music that William Shakespeare wrote for his characters. One you recognize and get used to it, this isn’t too distracting. It’s a shame, however, that the characters speaking this poetry aren’t more vividly drawn.
The main character, known only as “She” (Joan Allen), is an Irish-born American scientist married to a British government official (Sam Neill). The Kubrickian sterility of their homelife is obviously emblematic of their loveless marriage. At a posh government function, She is brazenly approached by a Lebanese-born cook, known only as “He” (Simon Abkarian). The choice not to name these characters is another gimmick that, in my opinion, only serves to create distance between these two people and the audience.
He and She begin an affair, but the passion displayed on screen is not communicated to the audience, not even in a steamy coffee shop scene with dialogue that Shakespeare might have penned if he had written letters to Penthouse Forum.
The biggest problem with Yes is that, by having two characters stand-in for the cultural clash between the Muslim world and the secular west, the film’s unabashed life-wing agenda drains them of any life that would help the audience care. He’s (His?) outrage at her western indifference is nothing I couldn’t hear on the evening news. There is no depth, no individuality to it.
The film has other problems as well. Potter’s over-realiance on stuttering still frames becomes tedious and repetitive about half-way through the movie. Finally, the film’s resolution, where She abandons her western affluence to live in Cuba, does nothing to resolve the cultural and emotional chasm between her and He, er, him. (These nameless characters are just playing hell with my grammar).
It’s clear that Potter has an interesting view on the world and the audacity to go “all in” with an unconventional narrative technique. Unfortunately, Yes merely adds up to a “nice try.”