Thursday, February 09, 2006

48. "... and yes I said yes I will Yes."

Sally Potter's Yes (2004) cannot be described without its sounding a bit silly--or worse, an exercise in irony for its own sake. The movie is set in present-day England, but everyone speaks in rhyme. It is in part about a passionate love affair between an unhappily married woman, Irish-born but raised in the United States, "She" (Joan Allen), and an alternately slightly lost and self-assured expatriate from Beirut, "He" (Simon Akbarian). But it is also about the Americanization of everything, the persistence of "messes"--at least, that is what the anonymous cleaning woman (Shirley Henderson) informs us, speaking to the camera--we're the only ones who'll listen, since no one in the movie pays attention to--barely sees--the world's cleaners, you see. And it's a movie about science--at first vs. God, then tugging at His sleeve--and the fine line between pride and terrorism, and the deep dark metaphor of who pays, and the dying dreams of She's Communist Irish aunt, "Aunt." Our principals, as you can tell, have no names. And the movie ends in Cuba. Yes it does, glowingly, romantically, without irony.

And I said yes to it--after, admittedly, fifteen minutes or so of getting used to the subtle Alexander-Pope-Meets-Dr.-Seuss effect rhymed drama has on modern ears--at least mine. And OK, that's a little bit of irony, since it was the rhyming itself that eventually drew me in, the lulling certainty of it, the slight distance achieved, in the end the honest and loving direct address, both character to character and film to viewer, that accumulated. The political debates, the love talk, the philosophizing about dirt, the deep wisdom of small revelations, person-to-person, that happen pre-, mid- and post-coitus non-interruptus, the sorrow and the fear, the recriminations and reconciliations, the grief and resolution and affirmation of this movie were all as indulgent as only grace can be.

I love this movie because it has ambitions, and one of them--the best, I think--is its insistence that to love we must surrender our positions to each other, and accept the new place we'll hold, because it is the former home of the one we love, who lives in ours now--and they become one house. As Tom Waits sings about the land where there's a town, and in it a house, and in that a woman, and in her a heart to love, I'm going to take Yes's Yes with me when I go. Better yet, consider The Cleaner, who insists, "everything you do or say / Is there, forever. It leaves evidence. / In fact it's really only common sense; / There's no such thing as nothing, not at all. / It may be really very, very small / But it's still there. In fact I think I'd guess / That 'no' does not exist. There's only 'yes.'" Yes almost breaks your heart, but pulls back at the end, in a finessed move, more like a diamond cut than a break, so that what the movie does is open your heart--and with an unironic grin and soft repose. Near the end of the film, She makes a video in which she looks in the camera and asks God if He can forgive her for not believing in Him. I might be wrong, but I think God answers, and I grew happy that sometimes they do make em like this anymore.

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