To underscore the cultural tensions plaguing Yes‘s affluent London scientist and her Lebanese immigrant lover, director Sally Potter periodically employs surveillance camera footage of the pair, caught in a restaurant lobby or arguing in a parking garage. “London,” says Potter, “has the highest concentration of surveillance cameras in the world. The average person is photographed 350 times a week. It’s shocking.” In the film, the resulting strobe effect suggests a tentative mating dance. “I think the aesthetic of the surveillance camera is very beautiful,” says Potter. “And of course it’s part of the theme of who is looking at who.”
Yes explores East-West stereotypes while continuing Potter’s career-long fascination with gender construction. The screenplay, written in verse, contrasts a lyrical Middle Eastern masculinity with that of the Joan Allen character’s priggish British husband, a politician and blues fan. Says Potter, “It’s like Blair. Every guy in that generation has the rock star fantasy. Changing the world, liberating themselves.” When asked about her preference for actresses sometimes called chilly—Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett, and now Allen—the director says, “I don’t really find them cool. What I find them is intelligent. You may find a certain detachment. But I find that very moving. It’s the opposite of sentimentality.” Indeed, Allen’s strongest speech in Yes intelligently pleads for erotic equality: “I’m not just your goddess or queen/I’m a 21st-century whatever!/I can be any damn thing I choose/Including your teacher or king!” Says Potter, “This is about the right of a woman to neither be put on a pedestal nor ground down. To choose the big canvas. To have a big life. That’s the cri de coeur.”
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