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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Salmon Fishing in Yemen

By
Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
Source: Catholic News Service

Dr. Alfred Jones “Fred” (Ewan McGregor) is a staid civil servant in London, an expert in the fisheries division of the government. He leads a quiet life with his mostly absent professional wife Mary (Rachael Sterling).  One day the department receives a letter from Harriet (Emily Blunt) inviting them to allow Fred to consult on a fishing project for Sheik Mohammad (Amr Waked).
 
The wealthy sheik has learned to love salmon fishing in Scotland where he has one of his many estates. He wants to create the same peaceful experience for his people in Yemen.
 
Fred scoffs at the idea of importing salmon to the Yemen due to climate and terrain. He resists but Patricia (Kristen Scott Thomas), the prime minister’s PR person, thinks it is a brilliant idea to demonstrate the government’s efforts to partner with a Middle Eastern country for a peace effort. Fred is basically forced to take on the task when his boss hints that his job may be terminated.
 
Harriett is very professional; she works for the firm that manages the sheik’s property and affairs. She and Fred go to Scotland to visit the sheik. Although Fred is still incredulous about the idea of salmon fishing in Yemen, a country without a single permanent river, he is drawn to the sheik’s vision of faith and possibility.
 
When Fred discovers that the sheik has already created a dam that would release enough water to create a river for the salmon, he is intrigued and agrees to consult on the project.
 
“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is a beautiful, gentle story of possibility and faith based on the 2006 award-winning comic novel of the same title by Paul Torday.  Director Lasse Hallstrom has created a beautiful film with nuanced performances by Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt. Kristen Scott Thomas’ Patricia is crafty and annoying but her character works.
 
“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is also a romantic comedy with surprising depth and spirituality and it avoids all the clichés that characterize over-the-top comedies of recent years. While there are several differences between the book and the novel I liked both, especially the way the film ends as contrasted with the book’s ending. 
 
I had the opportunity to interview Ewan McGregor by phone a few weeks ago and he said that Fred was English in the book but he made the character “Scottish because I recognized the character from people I knew growing up in Scotland – an emotional and sexually awkward man.” He also said that he had to learn fly-fishing and had to practice and practice. He admitted that he “has no desire to catch a fish” but likes the “meditative aspect and the way focusing helps you clear your mind.”
 
McGregor described Sheik Mohammad’s spirituality as “running off him”. “He makes you think that salmon fishing in Yemen just might work.” He also described actor Amr Waked as “a beautiful man to look at with a beautiful soul” who works for change and peace in his home country of Egypt.
 
I asked McGregor if he would like to comment on the film for the faith community. That idea stumped him and then he said something that is really good to think about when looking at films. He said that ”if a film is good the director will leave space for the audience to make its own meaning and not impose his or her own point of view.”

The film offers a lot to consider and contemplate about faith and life. At one point in the film Fred and Harriett pass by several of the Sheik’s servants and staff in prayer and I think it is Fred who remarks, “When was the last time you saw so many people pray?” The Sheik is a kind of mystical character and the story has a fairy tale quality about it that made it one of the gentlest films about faith and transformation I have seen in a long time.


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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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