Saying Yes in a Post-9/11 World

Directed by Sally Potter. September 2004, UK/USA. Rated R: 100 min.

(Originally published in buzz magazine on 4/25/2008)

Shakespeare would have been proud. Actually, I think I did see a guy with wavy dark brown hair, a receding hairline, and a hipster mustache in the audience.

Jokes aside, it's hard to believe that writer-director Sally Potter wrote the dialogue for Yes all in iambic pentameter and blank verse, following in the tradition of 17th century British playwrights. Could you imagine that? Beginning a screenplay, story in mind, and deciding that all characters should speak in series of ten-syllable lines, with alternating unstressed and stressed syllables, sometimes using rhymes? I’ve written blank verse before; it’s no cakewalk.

And, as panelists Eric Pierson (U of I alumnus; University of San Diego associate professor) and Hannah Fisher (film consultant) discussed with executive producer John Penotti after the Thursday afternoon screening, the master-crafted dialogue registers only one beautiful note among many. Add to the poetic speech all the other layers of art in the film – Joan Allen and Simon Akbarian’s heartfelt performances as leading actress and actor; the choppy, webcam-esque cinematography and surveillance footage used frequently to capture emotion; the powerful discourse of interracial and interfaith relationships; and the mellow soundtrack, tinged with both sadness and hope – and you have possibly the most overlooked film of 2004. So overlooked that it’s not even on DVD yet. Dear Mr. Ebert: Thank you for not overlooking Yes.

Fortunately, John Penotti confirmed the Q&A audience’s hope. When asked if Yes would become purchasable on DVD anytime soon, he said, “Yes, and I hope all of you go out and buy twenty of them!”

I’m guessing that more than three years after its initial run of the film festivals, starting with Telluride in 2004, Penotti is still a little bitter that Yes went unrecognized by the public and critical consensus. Rightfully so. His guess – and I’d say he’s not far from the truth – is that Yes tackled the issue of post 9/11 discomfort between Euro-Americans and Arabs too soon for the mainstream audience’s taste.

Really, America? Are you that embarrassed to think and talk about important issues? Would you rather watch VH1 countdowns and reality TV than an engaging film by a truly brilliant auteur?

Don’t answer that question.