Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011)

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. You might read the name of this film and wonder what it’s about. There have been other films with strange names, like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. When these come out, you almost wonder why they didn’t change the name before releasing it to the masses.  As for Salmon, it sounds like a documentary on the Discovery Channel, and I think that’s why a lot of people aren’t seeing it.

Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked) is a wealthy man with numerous mansions in his possession. One of them is in Scotland; and in his spare time, he takes full advantage of his spacious grounds by fishing for salmon. On a whim, the sheikh decides to attempt the impossible; he wants to introduce salmon fishing to a barren desert in the Yemen. Fisheries expert Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) is subsequently approached by Harriet (Emily Blunt), a consultant trying to help bring the sheikh’s idea to fruition. Jones is completely skeptical, naturally, because the idea of fishing for anything in the desert is asinine. Nevertheless, Harriet is brimming with optimism, perhaps because she doesn’t understand the impossibility (of sheer absurdity) of the undertaking. In fact, Jones considers the project laughable at best. In the middle of everything is Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), a public relations specialist who lives and breathes her job; she is excited about the prospect of salmon fishing in the Yemen, not because it will benefit the country or its people, but because the PR opportunities are endless.

You can almost guess where this film is going. Any time we see a plot dealing with impracticality or hopelessness, there is sure to be a complicated, unbelievable method by which the impossible is achieved. 2010’s Conviction is one such film. These films present the viewer with an unreachable goal and then restore their belief in miracles when the goal is reached. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen follows this ideology. Regardless of how ridiculous it seems to plant an entire fishing enterprise in an ocean of sand, we know, somehow, we’re going to warm to the idea. Ewan McGregor’s Alfred Jones is a man of science; he’s not particularly interested in faith, deities, or leaving reality in the hands of fate. The sheikh, by comparison, is deeply spiritual. He never entertains the prospect of failure. The goal, in and of itself, is inspired by faith. Interestingly enough, there are times when the sheikh appears doubtful, but these moments are quickly tucked away, perhaps to be analyzed in private, as he rests in his luxurious bed, staring through the skylight at a ceiling of stars. To the rest of the world, the sheikh is simply a visionary; his is centered and humble, full of old world wisdom and generosity. Jones is quietly inspired but remains true to his methodical roots.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Emily Blunt’s Harriet is neither religious nor scientific. But she exudes a certain light, as if she is fueled by a romantic heart. In many ways, she is a little girl, still looking at the moon and making wishes. She is a believer because she wants to believe; she wants a miracle to happen, if for nothing else than to prove that the world is a mystical place, not the lifeless, uninspired mass of Jones’s logical mind.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is very much a modern Aesop’s Fable. It feels slightly biblical, like a tale meant to teach doubters a valuable lesson. At the root, it is about faith, those who have it and those who need it. Visually, the film is pleasant to watch. Audiences are given a widescreen view of different parts of the world. To an extent, there is underlying message of tolerance for other cultures. In the wake of 9/11, people of Middle Eastern descent have suffered a great injustice, simply because they resemble (if only in skin tone) the perpetrators of the attack. Because of this, many Americans still hold a silent grudge and refuse to believe that anything beautiful could originate from that part of the world. This film proves otherwise. Not only do we get breathtaking views and a better understanding of another lifestyle, but the shots of Scotland, Morocco, and London (filming locations) are truly spectacular.

Unfortunately, this film is not for everyone. The quirkiness of the title and a lack of promotion are causing it to slide out of theaters unnoticed. Though there was a respectable amount of people in attendance with me, the film is unlikely to garner the respect it deserves. There are elements of comedy and romance mixed with intrigue and enough good feeling to last months. For an intelligent audience who can appreciate such things, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is 107 minutes well spent. For everyone else, well, there’s always the Real Housewives of (insert city of your choice here).

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