September 12, 2011

THE BIJOU @ TIFF: “Salmon Fishing In the Yemen”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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The first substantial buy of the Toronto Film Festival (Shame had sold first, but for art film prices) turned out to be Salmon Fishing In the Yemen, a modestly engaging romantic comedy from Lasse Hallstrom. 
Hallstrom has made a career out of “modestly engaging,” following his early distinction with My Life As a Dog and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape with a collection that includes Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, The Shipping News and Dear John. All bittersweet romances, none particularly memorable. The same goes for Salmon Fishing, which is more on the Chocolat (humorous) end of his scale.
Salmon Fishing In the Yemen, from Simon Beaufoy’s screenplay (based on what is reportedly a much more politically satirical novel by Paul Torday), is about exactly that. Ewan McGregor plays Alfred Jones, a fisheries expert who is approached by Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt), on behalf of here client, Yemeni sheik (Amir Waked). As the title says, he wants to find a way to import salmon to the river he’s created with a dam on the Yemen. Fred thinks it’s impossible, and he and Harriet rub each other the wrong way: she thinks he’s an officious obstacle, and he thinks she’s out of her mind. Of such, of course, are movie romances born, once inconveniences such as his wife and her boyfriend are taken care of.
McGregor and Blunt are charming together, which makes the slog to the predictable ending easier to take. And Hallstrom and Beaufoy have a (not so) secret weapon in their supporting cast: Kristin Scott Thomas as the government press secretary, hitting every arrow of dialogue with a bullseye, even the duller ones.
Salmon Fishing In the Yemen isn’t exactly what we think of as a “film festival” movie–it’s the kind of innocuous entertainment that turns up on cable several times a day. In the context of the bleak and the difficult that makes up many festival days, though, it can feel like a relief. Those cable schedules can feel like a Lasse Hallstrom festival of its own some days, and Salmon Fishing will fit in perfectly.

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About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."