An intellectual, a feminist, and a socialist, writer-director Sally Potter places her films within the realm of the conceptual. The heroine (Joan Allen), labeled “She” in the credits, is an Irish-American molecular biologist. Her profession and cultural identity become signposts for Potter’s belief system. She has a torrid love affair with “He” (Simon Abkarian), a former doctor—now a chef—from Beirut. The actors are remarkably well cast, humanizing Potter’s wry detachment with their earthy humor and sensuality. There’s also the novel conceit of having all the dialogue be in iambic pentameter, which lends gamesmanship to their amorous encounters. It’s nice to see intelligent, grown-up characters amusing themselves through a sexual affair, under the nose of She’s open marriage to her husband (Sam Neill), a cold-fish politician. Potter weaves in colorful subplots involving She’s goddaughter (Stephanie Leonidas) grappling with a nonexistent weight problem and a housecleaner (Shirley Henderson) whose flourishing monologues directed straight to the camera dissect the ubiquitous nature of dirt. But Potter misses the mark when the lovers confront the chasm between them. In her single-minded pursuit of pounding the gavel for such important themes as Religion, Gender, Global Politics, and Race, she forgets that simply observing human behavior and social interaction is, in itself, political and revealing. Potter can’t resist the opportunity to use He and She as hectoring mouthpieces for her belief system. Potter’s heart is in the right place, but the message suffers for being so overt and, therefore, over-simplified. This leads to a bit of heavy-handed globetrotting, using Beirut and Belfast as metaphoric signposts for the oppressed. When She’s journey of self-actualization eventually leads to a pastel-colored Cuba, Yes becomes the bourgeois fantasy of a well intentioned white woman whose ethical decision-making boils down to cuckolding then abandoning her priggish colonial husband and dancing the tango. That would be condescending enough, but one can’t describe Potter’s film without giving passing mention to the number of cutaways to humble cleaning women, kitchen help, and illegal alien workers who go about their business picking up after our spoiled white heroine (the shots end with the subject glancing earnestly into Potter’s camera). It’s meant as a beacon light into the souls of life’s invisibles, but it’s time for Potter to stop deconstructing her liberal guilt. Love knows no cultural or economic boundaries, she says, and, oh yes, don’t forget the little people. Yes, yes, yes…we get it.
- Sally Potter
- Sally Potter
- Joan Allen, Simon Abkarian, Sam Neill, Shirley Henderson, Sheila Hancock, Samantha Bond, Stephanie Leonidas
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