(director/writer: Sally Potter; cinematographer: Alexei Rodionov; editor: Daniel Goddard; music: Sally Potter; cast: Joan Allen (She), Simon Abkarian (He), Sam Neill (Anthony), Shirley Henderson (Maid), Sheila Hancock (Aunt), Samantha Bond (Kate), Stephanie Leonidas (Grace), Gary Lewis (Billy), Wil Johnson (Virgil), Raymond Waring (Whizzer); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Christopher Sheppard/Andrew Fierberg; Sony Pictures Classics; 2004-UK)
“Has its moments of curious pronouncements about the world that have the ring of poetical truths.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Sally Potter’s (“Orlando”/”The Tango Lesson”/”The Gold Diggers”) reduction of humans as props (which seems to be deliberately done by the film-maker) in her post-9/11 world romantic drama involving an adulterous affair has its moments of curious pronouncements about the world that have the ring of poetical truths, but the characterizations are more symbolic than real and the narrative aims are somewhat lost sight of as the film often gets sidetracked with admittedly stunning arty visualizations that nevertheless seem gimmicky and Greenway-like pretentious.
It’s a risky film about politics as told via poetry (something probably not suited for all tastes due to an unhealthy conditioning on the part of many film-goers, but nevertheless engaging if one is open-minded). It affirms “yes” as the way we should evaluate every life in the positive and challenges the sentiments that lead us to demonize others and therefore fuels us to go to war to defend our ideals. It’s effective as a rage against the superficiality of the times, the undercurrents raging from the war on global terrorism that leaves us feeling impotent, and the world’s rush to judgment on events that make things uncompromising in black and white terms. The talented actors are effective in speaking in rhyming couplets, which never became stilted. The featured lovers, initially are attracted to each other physically, hoping that would be enough to outweigh their cultural differences and help them sustain a relationship they both needed. But they can’t filter out the world and through their bedroom conversations the ugly world events bring everything home, as it brings out their different ways of viewing the world and they split along the divide of cultures: Muslim versus West.
The heroine’s maid (Sheila Hancock) plays the part of the one-woman Greek chorus, who utters profound statements about dirt and the meaning of life as well as voices concerns about mundane matters, such as it’s better to throw a used condom in the garbage then flush it down the toilet. She’s the voice of reason for the film.
The heroine’s dying aunt in Belfast voices her tragi-comic inner thoughts about life and death (via a voiceover), and her belief that communism is dead and in its place is a “load of greed.”
The three kitchen workers (they have names because they speak in a prosaic voice) become an ‘everyman’ chorus and weigh in with your typical opinions about foreigners, sex and racial fears.
Though weighed with profundity, the film has a lighthearted streak offering a fine comical touch to counter the serious nature of its subject matter.
The story is set almost entirely in London (other sites are Belfast, Beirut, and Havana). Joan Allen is the middle-aged neglected wife of wealthy womanizing British politician Anthony (Sam Neill). She’s an Irish-American scientist who enters into an affair with a lonely unmarried exiled Lebanese cook–back in Beirut, he was a surgeon. They are called She and He (Simon Abkarian, Armenian actor). They meet in the London restaurant where the much younger man works. She calls and they have a passionate affair. But then cultural differences arise and they have a nasty verbal spat. She’s blonde, he’s a dark-skinned Muslim. He breaks off the relationship and returns to Beirut to again join his family and find his identity. After her aunt dies, to honor her memory, she will travel alone to Cuba. One of her aunt’s private thoughts was “a life spent longing for things you don’t need.”
It ultimately is a fragile but energetic film about how to open one’s heart to the other in the face of world conflict and how we are seemingly trapped by our irreconcilable differences over cultures. That it doesn’t come up with answers, only a belief that a positive (yes) is necessary to meet these modern challenges, doesn’t diminish the film–in fact, it enhances it with a needed optimistic possibility to counter so much world pessimism.
REVIEWED ON 11/13/2005 GRADE: B+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/