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Sunday, February 17 , 2019, 6:00 am | Fair 49º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’

A movie of crossed cultures and paths, is a charmingly delightful keeper

3 Stars — Wholesome

It isn’t every day that you get caught hooked on a film you didn’t expect, but Salmon Fishing In The Yemen will reel you in. Its charm and wit make for a good story, but its example of simple faith is inspiring. Caught between the cultures of stiff upper lip Great Britain and the desert mystery of the Middle East, a viewer can easily fall in love with both.

Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) is a British fisheries expert who knows every detail of the life of salmon in the streams of his country. He is methodically devoted to his study, and his personal life is equally methodical and correspondingly dull. While he is on the verge of marriage, his passion is really about fishing. In his spare time, he plays in a string quartet in an old, seemingly abandoned, church.

Life has a way of bringing together strange circumstances and such is the case when Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked), a billionaire from Yemen who also has a castle in Scotland, proposes to Jones that they embark on a journey to stock salmon in the Yemen. Jones is aghast and dismisses the idea as a rich man’s fantasy. Meanwhile, the British government is looking for any kind of “feel good story” out of the Middle East to reduce the tensions that are mounting in the media as a result of its military blunders.

With great comic timing, a British press officer, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), happens on to this little story she reads about a Yemeni sheik who wants to build this cross-cultural tie between their two countries through salmon fishing. She proceeds to convince the British government that this is the answer to their prayers. What unfolds next makes for a charming story of life, love and faith, with lots of laughs along the way. Maxwell is the queen of spin and her hilarious management of this story changes all of the lives of the participants.

Representing the sheik is Harriet (Emily Blunt), a perky investment counselor who doesn’t blink an eye when Jones first rebuffs her offer from the sheik with a sarcastic retort that his nonsensical idea would cost 50 million British pounds. She just goes and gets the money and Jones is mortified. The counterbalancing story, though, is that Harriet is broken-hearted over the disappearance and apparent death of her charming and handsome military boyfriend who is a British war hero. When Jones slowly falls under the spell of Harriet’s charm, she struggles to get beyond her grief to see his budding love.

The spiritual nature of the two main men in this story is part of its charm. Jones was raised in Scotland in the shadow of what once had been a great Christian culture but no longer has any meaning to him or anyone he knows. By contrast, Muhammed is a man of great faith, and he appeals to Jones to live with a bigger purpose in mind than just catching fish or barely surviving on an emotional level. At one point, Jones witnesses some villagers in Yemen stopping for daily prayers and he remarks about how different their worlds were.

“In my world,” he comments, “no one stops for prayers. Sundays are meant for going to Costco.”

What ends up happening in Yemen is a modern miracle, but it is not without its local critics. There are those who have no interest in bringing Western culture into their homeland and are willing to do anything to stop it. It becomes apparent that any good deed rarely succeeds without a struggle.

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen is a good example of how each of us needs to break out of our little world of assumptions to see how big our world is. It is also a great statement of how shallow our faith can become while we are surrounded by a culture that seems to offer so many alternatives for self-satisfaction. In the end, the story reminds us that life is so much deeper, opportunities to stretch our faith occur in the strangest ways, and a deep love for one another trumps any occupation we commit to in our daily life.


» In your own faith journey, who has opened your eyes to the larger world that transcends assumptions, cultures and nationalistic boundaries?

» The providential provision of the necessary ingredients to bring a Scottish pastime to a desert nation is what makes this story work. Do you believe there is such providence in real life?

» Love most often comes upon us while we are doing something else. How did you and your love cross lives, and what struggles have you had to deeply connect?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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