Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Written by Simon Beaufoy and Paul Torday (novel).
Directed by Lasse Hallström
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a film about a ridiculous premise that becomes less ridiculous as the premise comes closer and closer to fruition. It is a journey of achieving what seems impossible if you just have a vision and drive (and unlimited money!) The film is very very British, complete with dry humor and accents that force you to pay attention. Based on the 2006 novel by Paul Torday, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen just sounded weird when I first heard of it, but a free movie is a free movie, so why not attend? And I enjoyed Salmon Fishing, so it was well worth it.
Once again, Tars has sold out and attended an advanced screening for free! But this time, they were peppering the Bay Area with so many free screenings of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen that it was hard to avoid wandering into one…. And as usual, we attend as members of the public and not as a critic, even though the critics get all the best rows reserved for them (and none ever show up! Lazy, lazy critics!) Director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules) I have lost track of recently, though he hasn’t lost any of his charm since I last saw a film of his a decade ago. The film looks beautiful, with some gorgeous Scottish countrysides and Morocco standing in for Yemen giving us some great desert scenery.
Dr. Alfred Jones is a government scientist behind a desk whose exciting life entails picking photos of flies for magazine covers, eating sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and a failing marriage with his wife, Mary. His boss is channeling Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Dr. Jones finds relief in thinking about fly fishing and talking to his koi. Dr. Jones is so stuck in his lot in life that he doesn’t even make any efforts to achieve anything.
Harriet Chetwode-Talbot works for a finance firm and handles the accounts for an eccentric sheik who is obsessed with fly-fishing and spirituality. When Sheik Muhammad wants her to spearhead an attempt to introduce salmon to the desert region of Yemen so he can share his love of fly-fishing with others.
Alfred gets the fateful email from Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, which he brushes off as a joke when he replies back. But things are going bad in the Middle East again, and the Press Secretary for the Prime Minister Bridget Maxwell needs a good news story from the Middle East for PR purposes. Thus, she brings the fly-fishing story back to life and Alfred is forced to go along with it.
At first he comes up with ridiculous requests and sets up a plan that is more theory than tested. He makes scoffing remarks, but despite his best efforts, things continue to move forward. And a funny thing happens. The further the project goes, the more Alfred begins to believe in it. The more it becomes his life, his project. Alfred grows beyond the bounds of his normal life, leaving the government job to pursue the salmon fish project. Alfred begins to believe again, not just in faith, but in himself. He begins to feel that he has purpose. This is pushed along by the Sheik and his talk of faith, and by Harriet – who Alfred grows to love and is dealing with her own troubles, as her brief boyfriend is called up to Afghanistan and quickly declared MIA.
Kristin Scott Thomas steals the show as Bridget Maxwell, she helps get the project fast-tracked and government backing, and swoops in occasionally to give it a kick in the rear or to drop support entirely. Her toughness and directness manages to be both not-very British, but also extremely British. If you catch my drift.
The characters continue to call Alfred “Dr. Jones”, which keeps making me think of Indiana Jones. But no giant rolling rocks or Holy Grails show up in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, just the grand quest to bring something to a faraway land. It is nice to see a film use the “guy walking against the many people walking the other way” shot and have an actual reason for it (beyond “Oh, look, our character is so individual!”)
The film is rather good, though the story of people finding faith is an old one and we know how most of it will play out. But it is less the destination and more the journey, and a journey with quirky British humor, Kristin Scott Thomas being awesome,
the dry humor is probably the best way to deal with the premise, the absurdity but also tantalizing possibility that maybe, just maybe, something this crazy could actually be pulled off one day. It’s the believable unbelievable that makes is believable. If you catch my drift. And while Salmon Fishing isn’t the kind of film that will find mass market appeal, it is the kind of film that will find an audience among the indie filmgoers. It is not the wacky comedy, but the feel-good entertainment. I had a good time, and recommend it.
Rated 7/10 (the new lure, koi pals, email time, crackberry, whip it good!, special fish delivery, no crusts!)
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