Yes Review

Yes is, at base, the story of a love affair between a man and a woman, known only as “He” and “She”. “She” (Joan Allen) is an Irish-American microbiologist, in a loveless marriage to Anthony (Sam Neill), a politician. “He” (Simon Akbarian) is Lebanese, a man who worked as a surgeon in his home country but, having left it, works as a chef and waiter in London. Oh, and the dialogue is in verse.

Sally Potter began writing Yes on 12 September 2001, as her response to the media’s demonisation of the Middle East and of Islamic peoples. Her film’s love affair crosses boundaries of race, religion and nationality. It’s a film ultimately as political as anything by Ken Loach, and like his work, locates its politics very much in the characters’ personal lives. Potter began her career in the late 1970s in the tiny-budgeted, subsidised experimental sector of British cinema, with short films Thriller (1979), London Story (1980) and her first feature The Gold Diggers (1983). Some work for television followed before her breakthrough feature, Orlando in 1992. Some of the narrative strategies used in Yes are familiar from Potter’s earlier work, especially the device of characters addressing the camera – notably Shirley Henderson’s cleaner, who acts as a chorus and commentary on the action.

As for the use of verse, that has precedents as well. The most obvious examples are Shakespearean adaptations, but the 1948 film noir classic Force of Evil is apparently written in blank verse. (I say “apparently” because it’s been a long while since I saw it, and in any case I’d have to look at the screenplay to confirm this.) Blank verse – the medium of all of Shakespeare’s plays – is made up of unrhymed iambic pentameters (ten syllables with stresses on every second syllable). Yes goes further than this by having its lines of verse being rhyming couplets. This isn’t as self-conscious as it might sound: Potter uses enjambement a lot, which places the rhyme-words in the middle of sentences rather than at natural pauses. The result is dialogue that sounds like a more stylised version of speech, though it certainly doesn’t avoid stiltedness in places. The film is well-acted, and they and their director earn points for finding ways to convey erotic attraction than the usual bedroom gymnastics. The photography by Russian DP Alexei Rodionov – who made the very different Come and See - glows. He and Potter do overuse the tilt shots though.

Yes is a film of ideas, and it’s a matter of your own personal reaction whether or not you find it emotionally engaging, or if the film’s stylisation is too much of a barrier. To my surprise, and after two viewings, I find myself in the latter camp. I’ve liked Potter’s work in the past: Orlando especially, and I found The Tango Lesson a much more interesting film than most. (I haven’t seen 1997’s The Man Who Cried, The Gold Diggers or the early work.) Admittedly the soundtrack – see below – didn’t help. I can’t deny the film’s ambition, or the risks its writer/director takes, but the result is to me a misfire.

Yes is transferred to DVD in a ratio of 1.78:1, anamorphically enhanced. The original ratio is most likely 1.75:1, though 1.85:1 is possible. Optimum’s DVD transfer is first-rate, colourful and sharp with strong blacks. You should expect nothing less from such a new film, but I couldn’t fault it.

The soundtrack is a different matter. There are two options on the disc, Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 (analogue Dolby Surround). Many scenes have the ambience turned up, often not so much drowning out the dialogue, but making it hard to register at times – something not helped by the strong accents spoken by some of the characters. Oddly enough – given that this was a new, digitally-recorded film – the analogue track seemed better mixed. I doubt that my audio equipment was at fault, as it played other DVDs perfectly, before and after this one. Nor do I have hearing problems. But people who do should take note, especially as Optimum have not provided any subtitles. There are sixteen chapter stops. The DVD is encoded for Region 2 only.

The extras comprise the trailer (2:07) and two making-of featurettes. These are “Finding Scene 54” (29:07) and “The End” (22:22). The trailer is 16:9 anamorphic, the featurettes are non-anamorphic The DVD has trailers for some of Optimum’s other releases, namelyt Notre musique, 3-Iron and Last Days.

For many people who watch a lot of films, it’s a frequent complaint that much of what they get to see is bland, safe and uninteresting. So when a film comes along that is as bold and risk-taking as Yes is, it seems churlish to criticise it. But this is a film likely to provoke strong reactions, and mine was a negative one.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 06:40:11

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