Salmon fishing. Yemen. Seriously?
Yep. And if you’ve turned your nose up at the title figuring it’s most likely the dullest documentary ever filmed, you’ll be missing out. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a wonderful feel good film, a fascinating indie flick that also happens to have one of the sweetest old-school romances I’ve seen in ages.
Sheikh Muhammed is in love with fly fishing. Does it every time he heads up to Scotland. But he has a dream; to have a salmon stream in his homeland. So he asks his consultant Harriet to find out if that could be a reality, and when the fisheries expert Dr. Alfred Jones tosses out a financial outlay that seems impossible, things start to snowball. Because the Sheikh isn’t about to let a thing like money get in the way of his passion.
It’s difficult to pigeonhole this film into one or even two genres. Yes, it has a romance in it, but there’s also the Sheikh and his dream. It pokes fun at the machinery of Western politics and how those who work in the machine often lose themselves in the bureaucracy, and there bits of real knowledge about fly fishing, salmon and fisheries management. Plus, there’s scenes of real drama, heartbreak and suspense. That’s a whole lot going on in under two hours. But with all that, the movie cuts from scene to scene with ease, the story flowing like so much water down the river. Additional stories, such as Alfred’s irritating blowhard boss and his loveless marriage, Harriet’s quick jump into a relationship with a man sent to fight in Afghanistan, and the Sheikh’s troubles with local villagers all fit in nicely without overburdening the story. Other directors could have been overburdened with the multiple storylines, but director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) has a way of turning them into one, coherent storyline, each piece important and worth watching. Ahh, if only there were more like him.
As the consultant and the expert that are thrown together, Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) and Ewan McGregor (The Velvet Goldmine — what? I love that film) are brilliant. Not only is there a sweet chemistry between the two, but they are able to take their characters toward romance in a very believable way. This isn’t one of the throwaway romances that have popped out of Hollywood recently, but a throwback to the wonderful slow-burn comedy romances from the 40s. Think Bringing Up Baby or Adam’s Rib, not Just Go With It. It’s a refreshing change that has me hopeful for a rebirth of real romance in the movies.
Kristin Scott Thomas (I’ve Loved You So Long) sinks her teeth into the role of the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary, Patricia Maxwell; she’s obviously having a ball playing the overblown spin doctor. Yet Thomas manages to inject a humanity into the part, playing Maxwell as an overworked mom who defaults to running her house like she runs her office. Amr Waked (Syriana) plays Sheikh Muhammed as a regular guy who love fishing and just so happens to be able to buy and sell you ten times over. This is no stereotype, this is simply a man that happens to be from Yemen, and it’s a benchmark I will be holding other movies that have Arab characters.
To be honest, I saw a screening for this film almost two months ago. And yet, I’m still loving it. The fact that Salmon Fishing in the Yemen has stuck with me in such a positive way long after I’ve seen it (and through many, many screenings of other films) makes me smile just as much as a man’s dream of casting out a line and reeling in a gorgeous fish in the middle of a desert. Catch this one if you can.