Like “A River Runs through It,” this Lasse Hallström film incorporates fishing as metaphor, with shots of salmon, the river, and fly-fishing running intermittently through the narrative so that it becomes both a motif and a relaxing thread that ties it all together.
“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” stars Amr Waked as Sheikh Muhammed, who thinks that fishing and spirituality are deeply connected and who loves salmon fishing so much that he built a castle in Scotland right on a river and has his guards wearing Scottish plaid. The sheikh has a dream of bringing salmon fishing to his native Yemen. Because of his admiration for the British, he seeks their help. But the email that eventually lands in the inbox of fisheries expert Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) gets a rather smug turndown. Unfeasible, he writes, in dismissing the project.
The sheikh’s crazy dream might have ended right there, had it not been for a succession of bombings and events in the Middle East that continued to give Great Britain a black eye. A positive story about the Middle East is desperately needed to draw the public’s attention away from the all the negative press. That’s what a press secretary for the prime minister concludes, and soon Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) is putting the pressure on Dr. Jones’ boss at the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence to make him change his mind and work with a consultant (Emily Blunt as Harriet Chetwode-Talbot) who will handle the details. This could be the feel-good story they’re looking for, British and Yemeni interests working together. The sheik supplies the vision and the money, the scientist supplies the know-how, and the businesswoman makes it happen.
If only their personal lives were as easy as trying to import cold-water fish into a largely arid desert country. The sheik has his enemies, Harriet’s life becomes complicated when she has an affair with a soldier who’s subsequently sent to fight in Afghanistan, and Dr. Jones only has a marriage of convenience with a career-driven wife who spends more time out of the country than in it.
Though “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” feels like one of those based-on-a-true-story films, it’s really a film version of the best-selling novel by Paul Torday—one which satirized Britain’s post-colonial politics and posed such questions as “Can money buy everything?” and “Can politics fix nothing?”
The acting is solid and the special effects okay, but it’s the cinematography by Terry Stacey (“50/50,” “Adventureland”) that seals the deal. Interesting angles, a nice balance of long shots and point of view photography, and successful underwater segments give the film the kind of visual appeal that makes so many scenes satisfying to watch. Faith, serenity, dreams, possibilities, duty and honor, love . . . and fishing. “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” somehow ties them all together, and without so much as a kink in the line.
Sony’s AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50GB disc is a good one, with nary a hair out of place. The level of detail is superb, black levels are decent, and in all the exterior shots filmed in Morocco there’s a surprising richness, with only a slight softness to some scenes. Otherwise, the colors are uniformly rich, and skin-tones natural. I saw no artifacts. “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA, with subtitles in English, English SDH and Spanish. Like the film, the audio is understated, driven mostly by dialogue and by a quiet musical backdrop. Ambient sounds are surprisingly rich and active, though the mix suffers when center-speaker dialogue competes with the other speakers. The bass only grows thunderous on several occasions, and I’ll not spoil the plot by saying any more than that.
In “Miracles Happen: Making Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” (13 min.) we get a pretty standard behind-the-scenes walk-through of how the film was adapted from the novel and cast, how the locations were selected, and what various cast and crew members’ experiences were during filming. The only other bonus feature is a very brief “Fisherman in the Middle East: Novelist Paul Torday” interview (3 min.) in which the writer talks about his version and how it made the leap to another medium.
“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is billed as a comedy, but it’s really a drama with wink-wink humor running through it like the gentlest of currents. While the ending gets a little cheesy and it comes with all the subtlety of a burst dam, there’s enough here to satisfy most lovers of foreign and independent films.