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Sally Potter began writing her fourth feature film on Sept. 12, 2001, facing the same quandary that stifled other artists: What could she say in the aftermath of a trauma sure to deepen the rift between the West and the Arab world? Potter followed the lead of Alain Resnais, whose HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR (1960) explored post-traumatic tensions between East and...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Sally Potter began writing her fourth feature film on Sept. 12, 2001, facing the same quandary that stifled other artists: What could she say in the aftermath of a trauma sure to deepen the rift between the West and the Arab world? Potter followed the lead of Alain Resnais, whose HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR (1960) explored post-traumatic tensions between East and West through an erotic encounter between a man and a woman. Potter's nameless lovers are a Lebanese man, referred to as "He," and "She," an Irish-born American woman. Once a surgeon, He (Simon Abkarian) works as a sous-chef in an embassy kitchen in London. Well-to-do research-scientist She (a superb Joan Allen) is trapped in a dead marriage to British politician Anthony (Sam Neill). He and She meet at an embassy function the day she discovers Anthony has cheated on her in their home; perhaps that's why She responds to his flirtations with her phone number, then agrees to an afternoon date, which ends in his bed. But their deeply passionate romance is soon undone by his chauvinistic pride and her condescension; it ends with each accusing the other of being blind to what is most important about themselves. He wants to be valued for what he is — an Arab man of noble ancestry — while she wants to be taken for who she is, an individual separate from her country's misdeeds. At various points, cleaning women — led by Shirley Henderson — serve as a sort of Greek chorus, both commenting on the action and reminding us with their confrontational gaze of the overlooked women we hire to clean the messes we make with our lives. For all its faults (Potter inevitably proceeds from her own cultural assumptions), it's a bold, fearless drama filled with scathing ironies. Potter cannily demonstrates the ways Western women's "freedom" from the Muslim veil produces greater enslavement to unhealthy body obsessions, and by writing her script mostly in iambic pentameter, Potter not only requires the Arabic-speaking He to speak a foreign language, but speak it in a meter and rhyme peculiar to English. It's a brilliant metaphor for just how much immigrants are expected to adapt, but one that's quite nearly undone by the breathtaking ease with which Abkarian handles the dialogue. Like its title, the film is ultimately an affirmation in the face of catastrophic negation, a bit obvious at times but nonetheless welcome.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Sally Potter began writing her fourth feature film on Sept. 12, 2001, facing the same quandary that stifled other artists: What could she say in the aftermath of a trauma sure to deepen the rift between the West and the Arab world? Potter followed the lead… (more)

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