Monday, July 25, 2005

A flow to things

In Sally Potter's Yes:

– The dialogue is in rhyming iambic pentameter;
– The characters are never named;
– There is a "one-woman comic Greek chorus";
– Dialogue comes interspersed with inner monologue and soliloquy;
– The longest speech is that of a dead woman.

So don't expect "realism." But the film is a treat! The verse shouldn't scare you off — it is neither particularly difficult nor excessively distracting. By foregrounding the formalism inherent to storytelling, the verse contributes to a film whose sum is far greater than its parts. The cast, too, is excellent, with strong performances by Joan Allen and Simon Abkarian (in his English-language debut), who play lovers caught up in the cultural conflicts between East and West.

Unfortunately, the conclusion of Yes is marred by an unconvincing and politically convenient solution to the characters' dilemmas that comes even as language, the staff of this film's life, recedes. Perhaps Potter lacked the stomach for a difficult ending, but the conclusion does suggest a certain despair over the power of language, otherwise celebrated in this film. Just how seriously can we take the final idea, that " 'no' does not exist. There's only 'yes' "?

Despite its flaws, Yes is a grand and mainly successful experiment. I hope that more filmmakers will follow Potter in daring to tell new stories through older forms. (And perhaps more poets should try it, too.)


Anonymous Madeleine said...

You convinced me: I've added it to my Netflix queue :)

7/27/2005 8:55 PM  
Anonymous Jess said...

Forgive me, John, if you've seen some of this before, but otherwise, it might be interesting:

The screenplay (with some "extras" apparently) is for sale at the movie's website (

You can preview the first five pages, and this solves some of our confusion about the rhyme scheme and/or lack thereof. It pretty much does rhyme AABBCCDD, although there are some lines where it gets ignored, or where the same rime is used for more than two lines, or even (I think) where it alternates to ABCB. But it seems fairly non-free.

Sally Potter blogs about her experience traveling with the movie, including some really great posts from dear Berlin.

7/29/2005 1:55 PM  

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