20 January 2013 | dfranzen70
A gentle movie about faiths of different stripes
A British fisheries expert is presented with a offer from a Yemenese sheikh to bring the sport of fly fishing to the Sahara in this charming, likable drama from Lasse Hallstrom. It features beautiful cinematography, even for those who don't particularly care about such things, and winning performances by Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, at its heart, is not a movie about fish at all; it is about different kinds of faith and the degree to which people place their trust in them. Alfred Jones (McGregor) is an expert in all things ichthyic and works for the UK's version of the Department of the Interior. He is approached by the representative of a idealistic sheikh who loves to fish. The sheikh has it in his head that bringing the art of fly fishing for salmon to the Yemen River would be beneficial to his people (the river is dried up in places and is, obviously, in the middle of a desert). It is not a popular idea, and Jones, before and after taking a perfunctory meeting with Harriet, dismisses it as ludicrous, unsound, and downright absurd. (Dr. Jones is a bit of a straight arrow, you see.) And it would seem that would be the end of it, except that the Prime Minister's press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas) sees this as an opportunity to foster Arab-Anglo relations at a time when, well, they're not so good. Long story short – Jones has to make the project work.
There are many obstacles to overcome. The water must be the right temperature and with the right amount of oxygen. Fish have to be found, somewhere, and imported. Negotiations must be had with local tribes who feel that bringing water to the desert is an abomination of some sort. And meanwhile, pressure mounts and mounts for Jones to pull it all off, since the sheikh is paying handsomely to the British government.
Alfred – Fred – and Harriet each have home lives that are in their own unique turmoil. Fred has been married for several years with no children, and it's clear that the love he and his wife once shared in full has dwindled considerably; she suddenly takes a job in Geneva, promising to visit him every so often. As for Harriet, the first man she has fallen for is suddenly deployed to Afghanistan. Each takes solace in their Yemen project.
What works best in this movie is the chemistry between Blunt and McGregor; the former plays an optimist ready for new challenges, and the latter is more of a stick-in-the-mud with little sense of humor. Okay, you who are reading this know that this is a plain setup, as this is not just a drama: it a romantic drama. Luckily for all of us, the movie doesn't descend into double entendres, sideward glances, awkward silences, and the like. Blunt and McGregor manage to avoid making the romance too light, too believable; we shouldn't be able to easily guess precisely how things will wind up, and we can't. Theirs is a working relationship that neither acknowledges as being anything but, and each is torn between their subconscious feelings for each other and for their respective significant others.
At one point, the sheikh asks Jones if he is a man of faith, and the expert replies that he is not. The sheikh rightly points out, however, that fishing itself relies on faith – the hope that something will occur, however improbable. A man puts a lure into the water. The outcome is not predetermined; he will most likely reel it in untouched. But he has faith that a fish will nibble at it and take the bait. The sheikh feels the same way about his fishing project. He has faith that doing so will enable the poor communities surrounding the river to thrive.
In the end, this is a quiet, elegant movie about love and hope, both of fishing and humanity. Excellent performances by the leads and able direction by Hallstrom make this a sort of soft-edged drama with romance and a bit of action.