This review of “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” will analyze the narrative themes and technical realism that add to the melodrama within the film. It will also conclude with statements about the representation of western cinema in relation to today’s socio-political climate.
Themes in this film include faith, identity and belonging.
The theme of faith is most obvious in the Sheikh character who embraces a risky project to unite ‘his people’.
It is also seen in the scientist Mr. Jones who joins in the Sheikh’s optimism, to use farmed fish instead of wild fish.
Both characters must use faith to overcome doubts that are voiced in their communities. Faith may have been a strong theme in the movie because it encourages positive change. Faith in one project (economic development in fly fishing) also unites people despite ‘different religions’ as the Sheikh said in the film.
Identity and belonging are important themes as well. These themes allow the audience to compare the two cultures of east and west. Although the westerners do not ‘belong’ culturally or ethnically in Yemen, they feel as if they do because they are united in one project with locals. Also there were scenes when the Sheikh was directing people, which made me think about his choice to create this own ‘personal’ identity instead of subscribing fully to a socially-constructed identity.
The above themes are most important in the film once conflict arises. Some locals oppose the ‘farm fishing project’ and create a flash-flood effect by unleashing a dam valve. This conflict makes the Sheikh realize that his visions may be ideal to him, but do not involve the community or create harmony. This scene could have been viewed as a ‘western’ or ‘eastern’ narrative conflict. A western audience may have seen the disruption as enemies fighting against travelling heroes (i.e. cowboys and indians). An eastern audience may have seen the disruption as a conflict between traditional values and modernity.
During this time, a love conflict also occurs between a soldier (ex-boyfriend) and the scientiest (Mr.Jones). This parallel or layers of conflict in the story remind me of a melodrama (love and betrayal narrative pattern). Moreover, the events in the film were portrayed on an emotional level, where project-related events paralleled personal events.This style is not realistic but adds entertainment to highlight the conflict. I’m not sure if the melodrama is characteristic of eastern films, even though the text “Arab Cinema” by Viola Shevik mentions melodrama.
Also the film script was very cheesy, for unknown reasons. Another aspect of cheesiness, was the lack of interior ‘thoughts’ or sympathetic musical soundtrack. There is little exposure on the ‘interior’ thoughts of characters during conflict (i.e. after the flash flood). Instead thoughts are generally displayed through actions, thus making the characters more flat.
The characters and the script was very stylized in a stereotypical way so that each character represented more of a ‘theme’ or concept- instead of a real person. This was different from the technical aspect of the film, which was highly realistic.
Technically, the film was visually appealing and used hightened-sounds that highlighted nature. In almost every scene, firewood, water, and breaths could be heard. This sound enabled the audience to become involved with the movie on a personal level, and view the movie as an experience. There were also many shot-reverse-shot scenes, where the camera focused on the characters and then their reflections in the water with the fish. Narratively, the characters were also behaving like the fish, by doing what they felt was ‘natural’ despite their circumstances or ‘against all odds’. (Salmon also do not originate from the Middle east which also relates to the concept of surviving against expectations).
Overall, I think the film took a western view of the east. The goals of the film could have been to make a positive image of the east, so that Americans would want to continue or share business with Arabs. One aspect of the movie that leaned towards western interests, was the construction of the Sheikh character. He is called a visionary and wiseman, but is treated as naive because of his lack of diaolgue and humble nature. He is seen as a victim in the flash flood, when Dr. Jones helps him escape. He appears in the end scene when Harriet and Dr.Jones reconcile- as if he symbolizes peace and unity among people. The Sheikh character creates a representation of eastern friendliness and naivity.
This film was advertised on Rogers on Demand, this year. It seems to be a highly recommened film despite it’s boring title. One reason the film may be popular is because it reflects on current issues such as post-modernity versus traditionalism, economic growth, person versus nation, and unity over ideology.