Jul 20, 2005 at 12:00 am

Someone should put British director, writer and producer Sally Potter on a pedestal and kiss her feet for what she’s achieved in her newest film, Yes. But it looks like Yes will pass by, sinfully unheralded, like so many in its class. While it has acting, story, drama, passion and visceral beauty, it lacks the Hollywood backing and special effects needed to grease the press these days.

Potter took Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and turned it upside down, inside out and then shook the hell out of it, coming up with a drama entirely new, without the baggage of tired plot turns. In doing so the writer penned some masterful dialogue, employing rhyming verse throughout that is poetic, crisp, often biting and firmly grounded in the colloquial language of today: It’s delivered seamlessly, in most cases, by a strong cast of actors.

In this telling, Romeo (Simon Abkarian) is a Lebanese surgeon living in exile in London, making ends meet as a cook. Juliet (Joan Allen) is an Irish-American caught in a lie of a marriage with husband Anthony (Sam Neill). She’s a scientist who works with stem cells and has been given the task of determining at what point life begins. She begins a passionate affair with Romeo, who struggles as a Middle Easterner living in a hostile land.

The plot serves as a framework for commentary on today’s politics of class, war, religion, sex and hatred, marriage and science. Maids provide a silent chorus, seeing all; Shirley Henderson plays the maid-seer who witnesses the fallout of a broken marriage and philosophizes on dirt and death: “We would never want to touch a thing/a sofa or a chair/if we could see what lives in there ... they fornicate and die ... in the end there’s no such thing as spotless.”

Allen delivers a winning performance, faltering only a few times in her weighty task. It’s not easy to wax poetic in rhyme while having a fight over who’s a bigger hypocrite — but Allen almost always hits the mark.

Abkarian is charismatic and well-cast, and hits the poetry dead-on. He skillfully comes off as sexy and strong, vulnerable and tender, playful and vengeful. He manages what might be a cinematic first: delivering passionate prose while bringing his lover to orgasm — with her clothes on — in a restaurant. Sam Neill is great as the husband grown to hate his wife, while Romeo’s co-workers provide needed comic relief and constant commentary.

Potter plays unusual cinematic games, slowing down and blurring shots, using slanted camera angles for emphasis. In many parts of the film, the audience is privy to unspoken thoughts during conversations and encounters, as the actors speak their thoughts in narration or soliloquy. Potter gets at the potent feelings and arguments that, as in real life, so often go unspoken.

Yes is not to be missed. Its story is captivating, lyrical, poignant, political, sometimes funny and unusually well-executed.


Showing at the Maple Art Theater (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 246-263-2111).

Lisa M. Collins writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].