The muddle east

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‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’

Remember when Lasse Hallström (“My Life as a Dog”) made good movies? “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” isn’t one of them. The biggest problem is Simon Beaufoy’s stilted and clunky screenplay, based on Paul Torday’s novel. From the first weighted frame, it’s obvious we are watching a movie based on a book.

Efficient advisor Harriet (Emily Blunt) and stuffy civil servant Alfred (Ewan McGregor) form an unlikely pair who are thrown together when Alfred’s fishing expertise comes in handy for Harriet’s “fundamentally unfeasible” project for Sheikh Muhammed Amr Waked) to introduce salmon fishing to the Yemen. In addition to their quirky personalities, Harriet and Alfred bring along their personal baggage. Alfred’s marriage to dull Mary (Rachael Stirling) is on the rocks. Harriet’s burgeoning relationship with soldier Robert (Tom Mison) is just heating up when he is shipped off to Afghanistan.

Cartoonish comic relief arrives in the form of Patricia (Kristin Scott Thomas), the unscrupulous press secretary who sees the project as a way of patching up the frayed Anglo-Yemeni relations. But complications abound.

Robert goes MIA in Afghanistan following an assault with mass casualties, leading Harriet into a depression tailspin. Meanwhile, Mary goes on an extended business trip, causing Alfred to question their marriage. This allows for a spark of romance to ignite between Harriet and Alfred. However, by the time the Sheikh’s dam is sabotaged (following a failed assassination attempt), “Salmon Fishing” has sprung more than a few leaks.

‘The Debt’

Directed and co-written by Assaf Bernstein, this Israeli film was remade in 2010 starring Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain and Tom Wilkinson. It’s a taut thriller that traverses 30 years.

In the 1960s, Mossad agents Rachel (Neta Garty), Ehud (Yehezkel Lazarov) and Zvi (Itay Tiran) are given a heroes’ welcome that they only partly deserve. They failed at their mission of capturing Nazi war criminal Rainer (Edgar Selge), known as the Surgeon of Birkenau. Terrified and ashamed, the threesome invents a story that glorifies the mission’s outcome.

Thirty years later, an older Rachel (Gila Almagor) has written a book about her experience in the Mossad. Zvi, who is now wheelchair-bound, shows up to tell Rachel that Rainer is still alive and living in a nursing home in Ukraine. In order to save face and keep their secret safe, Rachel, joined by an unstable and alcoholic Ehud, decide to bring their long-delayed assignment to completion. It is the debt they owe to each other and to their country.

While it lacks the Hollywood star-power that fueled the remake, the original version of “The Debt” makes you understand the inspiration behind the remake, which is available in Hebrew, German and Russian with English subtitles.