In Sally Potter’s Yes, an American research scientist meets a Lebanese chef at a London dinner party. She’s an unhappy, pale beauty and he’s a soulful, swarthy hunk, and the two fall upon each other with ravenous desire. She’s a scientist, lost in a sterile marriage (her husband is a cheating British diplomat), and he’s a chef, lost in a country not his own (at home he was a surgeon). She is played by Joan Allen, radiantly, maturely sexy, and he is played by Armenian-Lebanese actor Simon Abkarian, ditto. The two speak in verse — iambic pentameter, to be precise, the rhythmic beat that echoes that of hearts — even when chopping parsley, making love, arguing about religion and culture and geopolitics. And after an East-meets-West, old-world-meets-new-imperialism quarrel (about religion, culture, geopolitics), the two cry oui, oui, oui all the way home. Or rather sì, sì, sì: For reasons as unexplained as any in this flushed, impetuous folly, reconciliation takes place in that lovers’ Eden called Cuba.
Exotic, no? Potter, the writer-director of Orlando and The Tango Lesson, has said she made Yes as an artistic response to 9/11 — her own idiosyncratic affirmative, as it were, in the face of a cataclysmic negative. And she sets herself such a high formal level of difficulty — and achieves images of such sensual intensity — that there is a fascination to be had merely in swooning along with She and He. Allen actually glows with arousal; Abkarian boasts black hair so romance-novel photogenic that he’s excused from wearing a hairnet in the restaurant kitchen. Parse the philosophy behind the spill of words, though, and you’ll find intellectual jumble, junk. Better to nod to Yes as a drowsing chant than take it seriously as a statement of global concerns.