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MOVIE REVIEW

It's such a mess, just say no to 'Yes'

''Yes" is a movie I watched with delighted derision, if such a response is possible. I enjoyed my dislike of it.

Though I laughed until I cried (the movie is not a comedy), I wouldn't recommend the experience to anyone else -- certainly not to anyone looking for a sensible love story or lead characters with proper first names or a movie whose stars don't describe themselves as being ''21st-century-any-damn-thing-I-please." However, those in search of a work of peerlessly stupefying intellectual vanity presented entirely in iambic pentameter should stop looking. It's right here.

Our lovers in ''Yes" are a chilly biologist called She (Joan Allen) and a surgeon turned chef called He (Simon Abkarian). They speak in rhyming couplets, as everyone in the film does, including She's omniscient, baby-voiced maid (Shirley Henderson), who has a tendency to talk to the camera while housecleaning. (All the blue-collar workers stare accusingly into the camera. The only thing that's missing is a lone tear streaming down their cheeks.)

She meets He at an ostentatious-looking dinner that He is working and She has attended with her English politician husband, played by Sam Neill, accepting his blandest cuckold part yet. Together, She and He take courtly walks amid cherry blossoms. They share their ethnic backgrounds -- She is an Irish-born American living in England; He is Lebanese. They discuss the philosophy of their pasts (''I searched for truth/ With all the passion of my youth," says She) and the political implications of the present.

And they make love, which the movie is too dignified to show. Instead, we're treated to post-coital ponderousness. One talk begins as a discussion of oneness, then twoness, then She, daring to elevate the dialogue, moves into what sounds like quantum physics. This is a universe where speech is placed far above action. They won't even shut up during a scene in which He provides She with an orgasm in a fancy restaurant. That encounter is like a Prince song whose lyrics have been penned by the writer of a medical textbook.

''Yes" is a romantic drama from the mind of Sally Potter. This means a great amount of thought and effort has been expended to ensure that the romance remains distinctly unromantic and that the drama sinks like a stone. Potter is the writer and director who previously brought us a period-hopping, gender-bent study of Virginia Woolf's ''Orlando" and a Christina Ricci vehicle about a woman's role in various societies called ''The Man Who Cried."

In between, there was ''The Tango Lesson," her most tolerable adventure, in which Potter played herself, an English filmmaker, learning to dance with the great tango artist Pablo Veron. That movie was sometimes sexy and wrestled with attitudes toward surrender and control without the ideas drowning out the picture's sensuality.

''Yes" offers argumentative but bogus notions about American power and has a grating tendency to exoticize the non-English cultures it aims to dignify. The film is even less credible as a carnal exercise. Potter makes overtures to the sensual while showcasing her ineptitude in matters of eroticism. Parts of the aforementioned restaurant encounter, for instance, are photographed through a wine glass.

The camera, in fact, won't stop rocking back and forth or crouching below props; whenever possible it captures scenes from behind objects such as netting and fencing. Often the swaying effect leaves the viewer feeling seasick and nervous like a passenger on a sinking yacht, which is what this movie is: a ritzy disaster.

Potter includes a 10-minute internal monologue from a dying woman; a scene of She jogging carefree on the beach and another of her peering through her microscope; She's husband doing air guitar to the blues; and He dancing on his furniture. At some point the lovers have a teary fight about personal politics: ''You terrorist." ''Terrorist?" ''Bigot." ''Bitch!" And when it seems there's no place else for Potter to drag us, she sends her female character to Cuba on a journey of the soul that leads straight to a night of sweaty dancing in a local nightclub.

Potter's haughty, indulgent approach to filmmaking is alienating, to say the least. She seems to think ''Yes" is a weighty display of her intellect, but it's done too cheaply to be provocative. The movie appeals to tired fantasies of female independence and sexual fulfillment. The result is a unique time at the art house: a work whose badness becomes guiltily pleasurable, like a Harlequin romance novel masquerading as a dissertation.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

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