“I’m worried.” Director Lasse Halstrom chuckles a bit as he discusses the box office fate of his new film, but there’s sincere concern in his voice. “It’s kind of an impossible dream that the movie can survive… It’s just silly that we couldn’t find a better title.”
The film he’s referring to is Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which opens in limited release this Friday (March 9th) with the goal of expanding nationwide the following month. And no, the film isn’t a documentary about fishing, fishing for salmon, or even fishing for salmon in a geographically inhospitable Middle Eastern country. “[People] think it’s a documentary…It took a lot of faith to believe in that title,” the director continues. Which, given the nature of the film, seems very appropriate.
In Salmon Fishing, curmudgeonly fishing expert Fred (Ewan McGregor) is tasked by charming consultant Harriet (Emily Blunt) to take on what appears, at first, to be a ridiculous task: bring salmon fishing to Yemen. Fred is naturally incredulous, but his protestations are quickly drowned out when the entire affair becomes a PR bonanza for the British government and Harriet’s client, Sheikh Muhammed, deposists $40 million into an account for the project. The film quickly becomes not about the process of transporting salmon to Yemen, but about the faith it will take to believe that it is possible. The Sheikh has faith, but does Fred, a stubborn man of science, have faith to believe as well?
“Do you ever think about what you do, the creative process of acting, as an act of faith?” I proposed to Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt during one of the many roundtable discussions they were
forced to had the pleasure of taking part in. “Oh yes,” says McGregor in his lilting Scottish accent. And then, with a grin: “You have to have faith that your assistant is going to find Starbucks. There’s a lot of faith going around.” “I feel like every movie is a leap of faith,” Emily interjects over the laughter. “Because I think that you can absolutely love the script and you just have to go on gut and you have to take a leap and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t…That initial step into is quite scary, still, and I’ve done it for a while.” She eyes her co-star, then. “That initial walking through the door to meet you is quite scary.” “It doesn’t get any better,” McGregor shoots back.
The two stars are clearly good friends. In the hotel hallway, in between sessions, they could be seen chatting with one another in a casual, familiar manner. That real-life friendship can easily be seen on screen, their playful banter one of the real treats of the film. That banter and the script it came from are unequivocally fantastic, which is par for the course from Oscar winner Simon Beaufoy.
“You love placing your characters in impossible situations. Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, and now this film. Is that something you personally have experience with – overcoming impossible situations?” Laughter follows my question. “Pretty much every day,” Beaufoy says. “Getting a film financed, for instance. You push against people saying ‘no’ all the time. Everybody’s lives are like that. And sometimes pushing on and on is the definition of stupidity or even insanity, and sometimes it is an act of great faith…[and] it doesn’t have to a religious faith. Sometimes it’s right on the edge of being something religious in people. But it’s a spiritual belief that somehow, if something is good enough and right enough it will happen. If you don’t give up.”
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, with its challenge to believe in the impossible and hope in the unattainable, is not only a metaphor for the act of filmmaking, but also for life itself. The best, most joyous things in life often come from pursuing absurd yet beautiful goals. It’s a lovely film that makes you want to leave the theater and tackle some foolish personal mission, whether its to lose 30 pounds or write a novel or ask that enigmatic girl out that you know you have absolutely no shot with. It asks you to have faith in the impossible and tells you that doing so is not stupid, but wonderful. Magical, even.
“Is having faith that you can bring salmon fishing to the Yemen kind of like having faith that you can make a film about salmon fishing in the Yemen?” I asked Halstrom over the shaky Skype connection. “Yes,” he simply said, and chuckled as he said it.