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June 26, 2005 Sunday

New film "Yes"




British filmmaker Sally Potter is known for taking on difficult
subjects. Her latest film is called "Yes." The title comes from the
last word of James Joyce's novel "Ulysses," but it's inspired by the
terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Howie Movshovitz of
Colorado Public Radio reports.


In "Yes," Joan Allen plays a character known only as She, an
American-Irish biologist who lives in London with her cold British
husband. She has an affair with He, played by French
Lebanese-Armenian actor Simon Abkarian. He was a surgeon in Beirut,
but when he fled to London, he could only get work as a cook. Every
word of dialogue is spoken in iambic pentameter.

(Soundbite of "Yes")

Ms. JOAN ALLEN: (As She) Do you believe in God?


Ms. ALLEN: (As She) She didn't. So I had to pray at school and then
go back home and say that I thought reason was the way, the light,
that God was dead. This was a Catholic school. They fed us catechism,
fear of hell, fear of punishment as well.

MOVSHOVITZ: To pull off the rhymes, writer and director Sally Potter
told her actors to think about hip-hop, not Shakespeare.

Ms. SALLY POTTER (Director, "Yes"): In rap, in hip-hop, people bring
together, again, in a long kind of flow of playful rhyming language,
the big, big issues of the day: God, sex, love, relationships, war,
guns, hate and so on. And so I think verses is an incredibly alive
way of showing somehow the deep recesses of the mind, where we don't
think in paragraphs and in sentences; we think in a kind of long
river, a flow. So I thought, `Well, OK, try and write it for the
cinema. Try and do it for the screen and see how it works.'

MOVSHOVITZ: It works pretty well, according to Karen Durbin, film
critic for Elle magazine.

Ms. KAREN DURBIN (Film Critic, Elle): I was thinking about
recommending this movie to various friends, just nice, intelligent
people but who are regular moviegoers. They are not film buffs or
whatever. And, you know, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't tell them
that the dialogue was in verse, and so I'm going to start out on the
defensive because immediately I'm going to say, `But I promise you,
it's very subtle. You'll love it. It'll fall beautifully on your ear.
You will, after a while, forget it completely, you'll be so drawn
into the story.' I really want people to see this movie. I think
that, in the best possible way, it's mind-expanding.

(Soundbite of "Yes)

Mr. ABKARIAN: (As He) I need wash you, yes, from head to toe.

Ms. ALLEN: (As She) What did you say?

Mr. ABKARIAN: (As He) How can you doubt me so?

Ms. ALLEN: (As She) Wash my feet? Do you see some dirt? Do you not
see how your words hurt?

Mr. ABKARIAN: (As He) Divinity.

Ms. ALLEN: (As She) Oh, don't call me that. It isn't me.

Mr. ABKARIAN: (As He) In long afternoons I've felt your lovely arms
about me, tasted you and known the charms of flesh on flesh, of skin
on lovely skin. But when your blood is going, it's a sin, to...

Ms. ALLEN: (As She) Right. No, wait. Blood? Sin? What's happening?

Mr. ABKARIAN: (As He) I have remembered who I am.

MOVSHOVITZ: For the actors in "Yes," speaking in verse turned out to
be easier and more effective than they expected, says Joan Allen.

Ms. ALLEN: The rhythm of it became just very much part of this fabric
of the acting as well. I didn't approach the character any
differently. It became very natural, and it was incredibly easy to
memorize, much easier to memorize than most material because it had a
rhythm and a musicality to it but also with all the meaning attached
to it as well.

MOVSHOVITZ: Allen says the story of a cross-cultural love affair
could produce a preachy film, but the very artificiality of poetry as
dialogue actually made the conversation believable, and that was
essential to filmmaker Sally Potter.

Ms. POTTER: This isn't a lecture about the current global situation.
It's two individuals, both of whom we can love, both of whom we can
understand their perspective. And maybe that will help us, as a kind
of microcosmic example, get some kind of insight into the dynamic of
this very, very difficult moment we find ourselves in historically.

MOVSHOVITZ: To take on a complicated history that has divided
cultures for centuries, Potter says she needed a simple story.

Ms. POTTER: It's a woman in an unhappy marriage meets a man. They're
attracted, they start to have an affair. Where does it go? It's as
simple as that. It's the oldest story that exists, really: Two lovers
who try to love each other, but there is an obstacle in the way. That
was the basis of "Romeo and Juliet." Well, here, we're dealing with a
global feud: East and West.

MOVSHOVITZ: To play the role of He, Simon Abkarian drew on his own
complicated personal history. He was born in France to parents who
had fled Lebanon in 1958. His Armenian grandparents had themselves
fled to Lebanon during the Turkish massacre of Armenians in 1915.
Abkarian says like his character, he feels, in his words, `out of his

Mr. ABKARIAN: Luckily I became an actor because being an artist,
being an actor, you can open another point of view on the work, and
you can develop another understanding and create spaces that you can
relate with people, even if different, you know. The thing that Sally
did with this film, she starts writing the script right after 9/11;
10/11 she started to write. And the theme is telling that, that we
have to know who we are. Even if we don't like each other, you know,
it's important to know about the other.

MOVSHOVITZ: The loss of identity, the difficulty people have
expressing themselves and the burden of history are just some of the
themes "Yes" tries to address. They're summed up by a housecleaner
who sees them as just the dirt generated by people as they go about
their daily lives.

(Soundbite of "Yes"; vacuum cleaner)

Unidentified Woman: They say my cleaning is the best they've ever
known. That cleanliness, of course, is an illusion. Those of us who
clean as a profession know the deeper source of dirt is always there.
You can't get rid of it. You cannot hide or put a lid on it as long
as human life is there. It's us.

MOVSHOVITZ: Filmmaker Sally Potter.

Ms. POTTER: There's a place where the furthest extreme of scientific
exploration, whether it's in physics or in microbiology, meets the
furthest outreach of spiritual thought and philosophical thought in
many disciplines. They all seem to arrive at the same place, which is
where all is interconnected, all is interdependent, all is
impermanent. And that's really what the cleaner is addressing through
her own look at the metaphysics of dirt and dust. I came to love
cleaners more and more as I wrote her monologue. I have great respect
for those who clean up after us.

MOVSHOVITZ: "Yes," Sally Potter's movie about the mess we make for
ourselves, opened in theaters this weekend. For NPR News, I'm Howie

(Soundbite of music)

YDSTIE: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.