As in her previous film, the Dogme-certified Open Hearts (2002), Bier sifts through post-traumatic fallout, but here the findings carry an inevitably political charge. The cool tones and clean lines of the compositions, the largely understated acting, and Michael's mask of white-collar presentability underscore the cognitive dissonance of enjoying serene Western comfort while swaths of the globe are burning, perhaps at your government's behest.
Set in 1983, Danielle Arbid's compelling debut feature In the Battlefields (Friday, May 13 at 9:00 p.m.) also observes twin conflicts: the war in Beirut and the implosion of an extended family, seen through the watchful eyes of 12-year-old Lina. The girl is both victimized and corrupted by her milieu, including her father, a compulsive gambler prone to violence; her cold, frazzled mother; her cruel-tongued aunt; and Auntie's alluring Syrian maid, who offers Lina rare friendship, but also uses her as cover for her many secret affairs. As bombs fall and guns pop in the distance, Arbid's bracingly assured film remains eloquently reticent and bravely grim, capturing a searing double image of brutality at home and away without a hint of contrivance.
In Sally Potter's Yes (Saturday, May 21 at 8:00 p.m.), each lover of the central romance hails from a war-torn city and ends up battling the other. Ambitious, endearing, and sometimes ridiculous, Yes tells the story of a rocky Arab-Anglo relationship entirely in iambic pentameter: Clandestine lovers Joan Allen and Simon Abkarian pitch woo, argue, and order dinner in crisp Shakespearean rhythms, and the lines often rhyme to boot. Abkarian plays a cook who worked as a surgeon in his native Beirut until he witnessed one of his patients shot dead before him; Allen (who'll introduce the closing-night screening with Potter) is a Belfast-born, American-raised molecular biologist locked in a freeze-dried marriage.
Like all of Potter's movies, Yes is expertly assembled, mixing pointillist celluloid compositions with dusky video and outfitted with an eclectic score (e.g., Kronos Quartet, Philip Glass, and Gustavo Santaolalla). The actors (among them the wondrous Shirley Henderson as the witty one-woman chorus) approach the iambic dialogue casually and comfortably, and Potter's versifying--no mere gimmick--underlines the film's rhyming patterns of roles and relationships. True enough, the reams of metaphysical pillow talk can be enervating, but more filmmakers would do well to take the formal and thematic risks that Potter hazards in Yes, which--as befits such a clear-eyed but essentially jubilant project as "Women with Vision"--does finally follow through on its affirmational title.