Saturday, May 26, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Rakkaudesta, unelmista ja kaloista / Laxfiske i Jemen. GB ©  2011 Yemen Distributions, Inc. / BBCFilms / BFI. EX: Jamie Laurenson and Paula Jalfon (BBCFilms); Zygi Kamasa (Lionsgate UK); Guy Avshalom (Lionsgate UK). P: Paul Webster. Co-P: Nicky Kentish-Barnes. D: Lasse Hallström. SC: Simon Beaufroy - based on the novel by Paul Torday (2006). DP: Terry Stacey. PD: Michael Carlin. AD: Steve Carter. Set dec: Rebecca Alleway. Cost: Julian Day. Make-up and hair designer: Naomi Donne. VFX: Lipsync Post. M: Dario Marianelli. S: Harry Barnes. ED: Lisa Gunning. Casting: Fiona Weir. C: Ewan McGregor (Dr. Alfred Jones, a scientist at the Department of Fisheries and Agriculture), Emily Blunt (Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, the Sheikh's representative), Amr Waked (Sheikh Muhammed from Yemen), Kristin Scott Thomas (Patricia Maxwell, the Prime Minister's spokesperson), Rachel Stirling (Mary Jones), Tom Mison (Robert Mayers). Loc: London; the Highlands of Scotland; Morocco around Ouarzazate (standing in for the wadis of Yemen). Released by FS Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Suvi Jyrkilä / Carina Laurila-Olin. 2K DCP viewed at Tennispalatsi 6, Helsinki, 26 May 2012 (weekend of Finnish premiere).  

Technical specs from the IMDb: Camera: Arricam LT, Hawk V-Lite and V-Plus Lenses, Arricam ST, Hawk V-Lite and V-Plus Lenses. - Film negative format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision2 50D 5201, Vision3 250D 5207, Vision3 500T 5219). - Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Hawk Scope (anamorphic) (source format). - Printed film format: 35 mm, D-Cinema. - Aspect ratio: 2.35:1.

From the official handbook of production information: "A romantic, contemporary fable, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the tale of government employee Dr. Alfred, or Fred, Jones (Ewan McGregor), a rather introverted scientist at the Department of Fisheries and Agriculture. Trudging along in his day job, with his marriage stagnating, his world is suddenly thrown into turmoil when he’s drawn into a scheme hatched by a fly fishing-obsessed Yemeni Sheikh (Amr Waked) who dreams of achieving the seemingly impossible — introducing salmon to the wadis of the Yemen. When the British government, desperate for a good news story in the area, gets wind of the Sheikh’s plan, the Prime Minister's fearsome spokesperson, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), seizes on the idea — it’s a good news story that will deflect attention away from the government’s latest blunder. She appoints Fred to oversee the project, which pleases him not at all. For a logical, rather stuffy scientist like Fred, the idea of introducing salmon to the Yemen is one step short of madness. Fred, however, is eventually won over by the charismatic Sheikh and his mystical worldview, while he also begins to fall for the Sheikh’s representative, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), a gentle and engaging English beauty who joins on him his journey into the Yemen. When Fred is drawn into helping Harriet try and fix the troubles in her life, he learns to cast off his deep-set cynicism. With Emily’s encouragement and support, Fred then rises to the Sheikh's eccentric challenge, and embarks upon a journey of self-discovery and late-blooming love."

A feelgood mainstream entertainment movie.

I like the personal projects of the director Lasse Hallström who has always divided his work with commercial assignments and more deeply felt productions. In Sweden he was both the official director of the ABBA videos which were professionally made but without a feeling of personal involvement; he also directed two excellent Astrid Lindgren movies (Alla vi barn i Bullerbyn, Mer om oss barn i Bullerbyn) which really caught the spirit of childhood, and this spirit he also managed to keep alive in What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen feels more producer-driven, and the result is a conventional well-made movie. I haven't read the novel which is experimentally built on letters, e-mails, and memos; the screenplay is streamlined and straightforward. The satire on politics and media is very mild in this movie, far from Wag the Dog and Charlie Wilson's War territory. Even the cinematography and the music are conventional.

I would like to like this movie more because I like the salmon metaphor (going upstream). I also like the spiritual message of faith against all odds. The sheikh's scheme seems ridiculous, but it is really about making an arid landscape fertile for agriculture. It is a salmon like project. But to stretch the salmon metaphor, this is not a salmon movie at all precisely because this is a mainstream movie.

Emily Blunt is attractive as the sensitive female lead, touching in both tender and tragic moments. I admire Kristin Scott Thomas who would have deserved a better written part with more daring dialogue.

Even Ewan McGregor gets to play a more conventional character than was apparently written in the original book, but he faces the challenge very well in an effective laid-back manner. Ewan McGregor has been excellent in comedy roles before. My favourite among them is Brassed Off, and he was funny in Down with Love. McGregor is maturing very well, and his comedy sense and timing are subtle in this movie. His interplay with Emily Blunt is emotionally convincing. He contributes to the funny mood entirely without mugging.

Shot on 35 mm photochemical film in gorgeous locations in the Scottish Highlands and in the deserts of Morocco, something has happened to the movie in the digital intermediate, perhaps because of visual effects involving the artificial river and the salmon. While the close-ups, medium shots and interiors look fine, there is such a low definition in the long shots of landscapes that they fail to convey the grandeur of the nature, which should be the sublime contrast to the stuffy bureaus of London.

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