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Photograph by Nicola Dove

Is That Your Final Answer?: Joan Allen wants to say 'Yes' in Sally Potter's poetic new movie.

He and She

'Yes': Adulterers anonymous, in iambic pentameter. Wait, which one is supposed to be Rick Wakeman?

By Richard von Busack

MY COLLEAGUE Janos Gereben wrote a one-word review of the new movie Yes: "No." This may be too extreme. I'd say, "Perhaps not." Sally Potter's experimental romance concerns a slender middle-aged woman from the British Isles falling for a tempestuous foreigner. The man, referred to only as He, is played by the richly mustached Simon Abkarian. The woman, known referred to only as She (Joan Allen), is entombed in a loveless marriage.

Turbulent romance grows between them. She is an Anglo-American scientist; He is a Lebanese hotel chef (a surgeon in his home country, he is reduced to filleting meat in London). The film leaves for short excursions to Northern Ireland, Beirut and Cuba, but it's a theatrical love affair. The first entrance of She is so uncinematic that you can practically hear "Enter, stage right."

Mostly, Potter gives us the couple courting each other in iambic pentameter in medium close-ups. The action is shot in Dutch angles, as if the staticness of the composition had been noted, and it was thought wise to do something with the camera, even if it were only to tilt it on its side.

As She, the ordinarily fascinating Allen must represent science in the face of His renewed Moslem piety, stimulated by racism at his workplace. Facing her religious skepticism, He claims, "I'd rather have the wrong faith than no faith at all." There's faith, and there's faith. It's one thing to quote Rumi when nibbling a lady's ear; it's another thing to hotly suggest she needs a ritual bath because she's been menstruating. Previously, He had seemed like a man of science as well—a surgeon, not a witch doctor. The quarrel isn't even really just an excuse for Potter to include lines castigating American policies in the Middle East, which in any case deserve castigating. The truth is the split is obviously meant to get the boy and the girl apart for a reconciliation later.

Incidents of sex and death bear their usual weight. Her frank love talk ("Call me whore. I'll ask for more") is a sincere tribute to the title's reference to Molly Bloom. A deathbed soliloquy in voice-over has enough power to overcome the realization that what's really going on here is nagging from beyond the grave. Less compelling is a Greek chorus of one, a cleaning woman played by the normally adorable Shirley Henderson. She is very, very squirrelly here, expounding on dust mites in speeches reminiscent of the transcendental closing statement in The Incredible Shrinking Man.

As in Orlando, Potter's visual style is sometimes arresting: displaying Allen in a metallic suit to bring out her exquisite paleness or filming a cheerless Christmas dinner so chilly there should have been hoarfrost on the lens. As for the verse, it doesn't always quite sound like The Cat in the Hat. One novelty is Potter using cell-phone conversations to create caesuras and avoid forced rhymes. Still, this is Shakespeare's métier, and I don't think he'd rhyme "shite" with "polite."

Yes (R; 95 min.), directed and written by Sally Potter, photographed by Aleksei Rodionov and starring Joan Allen and Simon Abkarian, opens Friday at selected theaters.

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From the June 29-July 5, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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