From the beloved director of Chocolat and the Oscar®-winning screenwriter of Slumdog Millionaire comes the inspirational comedy Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. A visionary sheik (Amr Waked) believes his passion for the peaceful pastime of salmon fishing can enrich the lives of his people, and he dreams of bringing the sport to the not so fish-friendly desert. Willing to spare no expense, he instructs his representative (Emily Blunt) to turn the dream into reality, an extraordinary feat that will require the involvement of Britain's leading fisheries expert (Ewan McGregor) who happens to think the project both absurd and unachievable. That is, until the Prime Minister's overzealous press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas) latches on to it as a 'good will' story. Now, this unlikely team will put it all on the line and embark on an upstream journey of faith and fish to prove the impossible, possible. (from Fishingintheyemen.com)
In an industry where every weekend of every week several movies duke it out for audiences' ticket money, a British indie film named Salmon Fishing in the Yemen comes to the United States. In a way, it's unassuming and daring at the same time. Many may pass it by due to its title alone, but like a good book that cannot be judged by its cover, so it can be said for a film like this one with a title like this one. Actually, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is based on a 2008 novel, written by Paul Torday, which served as a sort of political and societal commentary for British culture. It centers its story around a Sheikh who hoped to bring the sport of salmon fishing to his homeland in the Yemen. However, the Yemen is a desert and salmon need cold temperatures--not to mention water--to thrive. And here begins a tale in which the power of politics help make an impossibility a reality.
The film version of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a unique blend of drama, romance and comedy. The story hits the ground running, immediately establishing the plot that the title suggests during the opening credits. It begins in a way that brought to mind the indie comedy Stranger Than Fiction, and the tone that that film bore wasn't too different than Salmon Fishing.... Dr. Alfred Jones, who is given a well-rounded performance by Ewan McGregor, is a fishing expert/scientist who is immediately established as having a complicated marriage and a menial cubicle office job. Meanwhile, Harriet is the representative to the Sheikh and is going through her own personal drama as the budding romance with her soldier boyfriend is abruptly put on hold when he's called to duty in Afghanistan. When the Sheikh is willing to pay whatever it takes to see his dream become realized, Harriet and Fred are thrust into the middle of this hopeless project that soon turns into a passion for all three of them.
While I'm completely unfamiliar with the book that inspired the movie, director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, Dear John) does a wonderful job making Salmon Fishing... quirky and memorable. As far as comedies go, each character is relatively grounded, with the most rambunctious in the bunch being the Prime Minister's press secretary, Patricia Maxwell, who is wonderfully played by Kristin Scott Thomas. She is probably one of the few colorful characters that you'd likely find in your typical romantic comedy. At the same time, Yemen is a movie with a great deal of depth emotionally, too. There are artistic shots and moments that remind you of the arty nature of the film, but the extraordinary and ordinary situations that befall several of the main characters are handled just as wonderfully as the comedic moments. It may feel uneven to some, but the highs and lows feel rather balanced overall. Just when you may need a laugh, Hallström brings one in in a much-needed and often unexpected-yet-natural way. Witty dialog is often attributed to these moments and there's plenty of great lines uttered by McGregor and Thomas to keep the audience smiling. Emily Blunt and McGregor have great chemistry, too, and it's their scenes together that are some of the best in the movie. Blunt is great casting as Harriet as she's beautiful without seeming overly pretty or unrealistic and fake. The same can be said for McGregor who can play a great everyday man (who may be a bit too stiff and perhaps nerdy at times too), yet bring plenty of personality to the character as well to help us really care about him.
But some of the drama leads you to be rooting for situations that aren't exactly ideal, to put it lightly. (Spoiler alert) There is a plot development that finds a couple getting separated when a married man realizes he's falling for another woman after his wife clearly shows signs of disrespecting him and distancing herself from him. The audience wants him to not be with such an undesirable character as his wife is, and we're likely to find ourselves hoping he does indeed leave her (therefore promoting divorce). You can easily see the problems with their relationship and the unhappiness that it brings him, but the characters don't really work too hard at trying to reconcile things. It works for the story to see this unfolding, and it works on an emotional level, but from a moral standpoint, it's not something we should be encouraging.
Amr Waked is marvelously cast as Sheikh Muhammed. He's charming, friendly and warm, and he ends up being one of the film's most endearing characters. He's also always putting his faith in God first and foremost, and this ends up confusing and ultimately inspiring Dr. Jones who otherwise doesn't have any spiritual faith of his own. While the spiritual elements of the movie aren't very Christian in nature specifically, the Sheikh's faith in the impossible is inspiring no matter what your background is. The subject matter--for example, when it gets very political--isn't preachy or obnoxious like in a movie like Big Miracle or the Happy Feet films, where the political agendas are anything but subtle. Hallström keeps the political content light and even fun at times, poking fun at itself more than anything. Since Torday wrote the book to be a political and social satire, this is felt throughout the movie and it actually adds to its enjoyability (even if, admittedly, I won't understand all of the British references and humor).
With that said, the content for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is pretty mild overall, with several moments that end up being surprisingly edgy. There is one "F" word, where Kristin Scott Thomas scolds her son for being disrespectful (it's played for laughs), as well as several uses of "effing" as a substitute for saying the actual strong profanity. There are also two sexual situations. The first shows Harriet making out her with boyfriend Robert in her flat, and then we see them in bed together the next morning. In another scene, we hear some sexual sounds coming from a couple (mostly Alfred, which we hear before we see) and then we see Alfred roll off of his wife (they're both fully clothed) and she makes a remark about that being able to tide him over for awhile (as it shows how cold and distant she's grown toward him). The latter was a bit more surprising (and less subtle) than the former. There are a couple minor sexual references in the dialog (mostly from Thomas' Patricia), but nothing too explicit. The rest of the language is sprinkled with a few instances of blasphemy and several uses of "*ss" and "h*ll." Lastly, there's a little bit of violence (and talk of death), but nothing is especially graphic.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is one of those sweet surprises that comes along when you least expect it but leaves you feeling satisfied and perhaps even a little inspired or hopeful. Yemen is not without its faults, of course, and its subject matter is undoubtedly more mature for adults than teens or younger, but it's a wonderful comedic drama that seems to strike all the right emotional chords for one memorable movie experience.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 3/8/12)
Salmon Fishing In The Yemen comes home in a single-disc DVD, single-disc Blu-Ray or through the usual digital providers. We only had the DVD available at review time, and while the picture is fine, I'd have to recommend that this is one of those films that really needs to be seen in high definition. Standard DVD often exhibits dull colors and slightly blurry images, so for a movie like this one, that takes the viewer to many visually stunning landscapes, it's a disservice to the film and viewer to see it in anything but HD. So if you have the capabilities for it, definitely choose the Blu-Ray over the DVD.
In addition to the feature film, there are two short featurettes that together don't even total twenty minutes:
Miracles Happen: Making Salmon Fishing In The Yemen (13:09) - Although relatively brief, this making-of featurette covers quite a bit in its short running time and focuses on the characters and actors working together in the film, as well as Lasse Hallström's direction. There is some great behind-the-scenes footage on set during filming on location and we also hear about the cast learning to fish for the film, and then get some insights into the big flood sequence in the movie. The most interesting thing to learn during this featurette is that the actual Yemen dam set was washed away by a real flood before production began. So they decided to film the flood devastation sequence first and then clean it up and film the before-flood scenes afterwards. It's quite fascinating. (There's 1 "a" word used in an interview and a clip from the film using the 1 "F" word is shown again here)
The Fisherman in the Middle East: Novelist Paul Torday (3:15) - The author of the book that this film is derived from, Paul Torday, tells the story of how the book came about and how it became a film. It's a short segment, but it's intriguing to hear from Torday about his inspirations for the story, and how his fascination with faith came into play with the story.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 7/16/12)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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