The film title in question: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. And that was my first question for director Lasse Hallstrom (Cider House Rules, My Life as a Dog, Chocolat).
P. B.: Do you find the title to be problematic?
L. H.: “Yes, I do,” pronounced the Swedish moviemaker. “Especially in the United States where no one knows about the book. It was a successful book that came out in England about five years ago, but for some reason, America doesn’t know about it. I admit to lying awake many a night worried that moviegoers would think it’s a documentary on salmon fishing. We even thought of coming up with another title, but never found a better one. Once you know the story, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen works.”
Yeah, it works if the film-going public knows what it’s about. Because I guarantee you some do think it is a documentary on fishing. And that would be a shame as it is a film about faith and perseverance, two aspects of which there is never an over abundance.
And that, kind readers, is where fellows like me come in. We aren’t really about ripping films apart, though I admit to spending a fair amount of writing time doing just that. Our ultimate purpose and goal is to make the public aware of what’s out there and hopefully guide them to little treasures such as Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
The story concerns a visionary sheikh who has a big dream -- to bring salmon fishing to the desert. Willing to spare no expense, he instructs his representative to turn his dream into reality, an extraordinary feat that will require the involvement of Britain's leading fisheries expert (Ewan McGregor), who happens to think the project both absurd and unachievable. That is, until the Prime Minister's overzealous press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas) latches on for its potential as a “good will” story.
I admit, the first 15 minutes worth of exposition failed to grab me. We’re not off to a good start, I thought. Ah, but once the sheikh (Amr Waked) is introduced, the picture comes together, bringing out character in our two leads and adding spiritual dimension to the story. Suddenly, it’s funnier, with the touching moments helped along by the talented Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt, and from the sheikh’s first appearance on, the story captivates with its themes of hope and faith.
At one point the two leads see Arabs bowed in prayer, causing them to reflect on how they haven’t attended church in years. “I don’t know anybody who goes to church. On Sunday, we go to Target,” says the McGregor character. That’s a sad commentary for a nation abundant in houses of worship. And after the sheikh introduces the subject of the need for faith, the two Americans begin to understand the concept of and need for believing in things unseen.
I then asked Mr. Hallstrom what drew him to the project.
L. H.: “I think it is one of the best scripts I’ve read. I loved the tone, the sense of humor, and the range. It’s a fable-like, farcical, emotional journey, ranging from real emotions and relationships to more quirky comedic elements. I like that mix. And I can relate to the European sense of humor. To have Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours) as the screenwriter is such an honor.”
P. B.: Were the themes of hope and faith something that also motivated you?
L. H.: “Yes, and it had a quirky Englishness, and wonderful mix of romance and comedy.”
P. B.: What would you like audiences to take away from the film?
L. H.: “It’s a good mix of dry wit and poignancy. When they leave the theater I hope they will feel uplifted. I want people to feel like they’ve just had a glass of good champagne. Also I want them to sense that a Utopian dream isn’t beyond our reach.”
Now playing in theaters, Salmon fishing in the Yemen is rated PG-13 (a couple of crude sexual references toward the beginning of the film; four or five obscenities and a few minor expletives; three misuses of Jesus’ name; the comic villainess says “Oh my God” a couple of times; terrorists attempt to shoot the sheikh and extremists blow up a dam; an American soldier is reportedly killed in Afghanistan; two sexual situations, one after just one date, but the scene cuts away, avoiding any graphic display or nudity; brief drinking). Running Time: 95 min. Intended Audience: Teens and up
Lasse Hallstrom delivers a beautiful story where a little bit of hope and faith makes the impossible possible! Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt are captivating together!