Yemenity2010's Blog

Salmon Fishing Shot Swedish Style – Not As Good As the Book?

Posted in Blog Entry in English, Tema: Kultur, Tema: Vatten by yemenity2010 on 15/04/2012

The novel has already achieved a sort of cult status, and now the film has arrived. It opened here in Sweden roughly two weeks ago, and it happens to be directed by a Swede. I’m talking about ”Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”. I read it while working in Yemen and was struck by the interesting, some might say odd, structure and narrative techniques used by author Paul Torday. Plot developments are told mainly through diary entries, police interrogation transcripts, parliament committee hearings, e-mail exchanges and such sources. The time perspectives alter quickly between what could be seen as a designated ”now” and flashbacks. Or maybe the other way around. Flashforwards and -sideways like the ”Lost” TV concept? Well, not that complicated, but still intriguing.

Also, Torday likes to piece together a jigsaw puzzle which reveals unpleasant and unwelcome truths one by one in an entertaining fashion, but he doesn’t place all cards on the table until the Grand Finale. Big issues are dealt with and the author is subtly satirical, obviously not very optimistic about the edifying qualities of politics, while simultaneously incorporating these sociopolitical jibes in a story where ordinary human weaknesses are exposed equally unmercifully. Well, sometimes he finds their strengths too, and some of the people in the story are actually easy to like in spite of their weaknesses. Maybe they are… human?

I started thinking that maybe there was film hidden in there, although it wasn’t obvious from the way it was written. About a year ago I discovered that the film productions was already under way and I wrote a piece (in Swedish) based mostly on a report from the monthly magazine Yemen Today. According to their article the result was bound to become ”… a must-see for anyone susceptible to the charms found exclusively in Yemen”.

About the film itself (starring Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas) I can’t really say that much – yet. I haven’t seen it – yet. Critics like Roger Ebert seem to think that director Lasse Hallström has put too much emphasis on romance and lighthearted stuff while he ”doesn’t take advantage of the rich eccentricity in the story”.

Peter Debruge from Variety apparently agrees: ”Like one of those kitchen machines that can turn nearly any ingredient into ice cream, Lasse Hallstrom has sweetened the satire right out of Paul Torday’s side-splitting political sendup…”. Debruges conclusion: ”Hallstrom has built a respectable career bringing surface polish to feel-good stories, and he’s not about to get all philosophical now.” Harsher still is Joanne Laurier from World Socialist Web Site (a forum not exactly known for worshipping feelgood movies in general, as far as I can tell): With his latest movie, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, one wonders if the director is seriously paying attention to anything going on in the world…  The WSWS reviewer claims that the Swedish director mostly ”wants the viewer to leave his or her brain outside the theater. Among the many things the viewer should forget or ignore is that Britain was a colonial power in southern Yemen from 1839 and only left, in the face of massive popular opposition, in 1967”. Laurier’s punchline: ”Hallström’s trademark liberal wishful thinking has this time landed him in murky waters.”

Ouch. Of course I have to see the film sooner or later, anyway. Also, the criticism for not taking into account the Arab Spring in the movie might be unfair, since most of ”Salmon Fishing” was probably shot before the start of the protests in Yemen and other Arab countries. Some Swedish reviewers have even called this the funniest film Hallström has made in a long time, but I’ll be back with my own opinions when I’ve had the opportunity to watch the film for myself. I must say I had a hard time picturing Ewan McGregor as the protagonist Dr. Alfred Jones. On the other hand, it’s difficult to think of any established movie star radiating (or the opposite of that) the extreme grayness Jones seems to possess when you read the book…

Yes, there is a lot of fascinating scenery to found in Yemen. But water is scarce. So exactly how clever is the idea of introducing fishing for sport in that country? Probably only in the world of fiction, right?

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