Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lasse Hallstrom: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Sony Pictures Classics, 2012.

Regaling us with tales of 'normal' people who find themselves in extraordinary situations, Lasse Hallstrom has never lost sight of his vital attribute: to objectively portray human beings within the confines of a subjective universe, the film form. The constraints of both celluloid and narrative have challenged Hallstrom, who has risen to the occasion every time. He excels at portraying inner lives and the surfaces they hide behind. His masterpieces are My Life as a Dog and What's Eating Gilbert Grape? His mini-masterpiece is The Cider House Rules. Among his underrated or forgotten films are Once Around, Something to Talk About, Casanova, and An Unfinished Life. Many contemporary critics have hailed him as a new Renoir; now while lofty praise, its not entirely unfitting. The joie de vivre and optimistically complex characters liken them as relative; an undercurrent of darkness runs through many of their films. Jean Renoir is definitely a spiritual mentor for Hallstrom.

The latter's newest film is the admittedly minor, groan-inducing titled Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy displays considerable dexterity in making the preposterous plot of Paul Torday's novel even palatable on screen. His gift for character and dialogue is on display, not withstanding plot particulars. A trans-continental deal involving an eccentric, visionary sheikh wanting to transport the sport of salmon fishing to his desert community touches the lives of many. While the narrative is riddled with implausibilities, Beaufoy and by design, Hallstrom, have made us believe it all. Now that's great writing and directing. I was reminded of Billy Wilder by their focus and vision.

Ewan McGregor is all blustery Scotsman as fishing expert Dr. Jones, pigeonholed into the project. He has good chemistry with Emily Blunt, as Harriet, the Sheikh's London liasion. While their rom-com sideline and the plot's philosophical aimings don't quite hit the mark, the mood is right. Terry Stacey captures some breathtaking shots of both the Scottish highlands and the Yemeni desert. Dario Marianelli's score is lushly romantic with a touch of Arabic instrumentation. Kristin Scott Thomas steals every scene as a ball busting British government official assigned to oversee the deal, and Amr Waked is strong and impressive as the Sheikh.

Hallstrom's minor film is an enjoyable one, reminding us of his delicate touch as a director.

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