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Film review: Only the river knows

The editorial of this month’s FlyLife provided a juicy little insight into a new film to hit the flyfishing scene: Only the river knows. Keen to get some more info, I googled the title and found the trailer. It is compelling, to say the least. Check it out here.

As Hamish was up staying, we decided to download the full film and have a look. The film follows the journey of Rolf, a young Scandinavian flyfisherman, who travels to New Zealand, full of optimism, only to be confronted with what could be described as incredibly difficult fishing conditions. After getting lost in a forest, Rolf and his companion finally find the hut they’ve been looking for. In the hut, Rolf finds the journal of Lars Lenth, a fellow Scandinavian, and begins to be absorbed in what is evidently a beautiful piece of writing about Lars’s experience, the philosophy of fly fishing and life more broadly.

The first two thirds of the film switch between the successes of Lars and the trials and tribulations of Rolf. The contrast is exceptionally well conveyed, with the beautiful dialogue and filming of Lars’s experience (credit to producer, Peter Christensen) compared to the down-trodden, frustrating and grainy quality of Rolf’s (credit to Rolf and his mates).

Eventually, Rolf and Lars’s paths cross in what could best be described as a quirky, and at worst downright bizarre, part of the film. Some people will love it; others will be left scratching their heads and wondering what happened.

Nonetheless, it’s pretty hilarious throughout, with notable parts being Rolf’s high-pitched narration when trying not to spook a wily trout, throwing the rod down in frustration, the comparison of starting a fire to another source of warm glow of satisfaction, Lars’s old mate talking about the fact that he can’t leave his dog behind for an adventure with the young Scandinavians but he’s happy to leave his children, and some great footage of a small bird landing on Rolf’s rod while stalking a big brown.

Discussing the film with Hamish, I initially explored interest in the idea that Lars had given up fishing to become a full-time alcoholic as there were no more remaining challenges (as an aside, the collection of XXXX gold on Lars’s bedside table was a nice touch). Is the constant pursuit of more and bigger fish an important part of fishing? What happens when you have achieved this? The film concludes with what is perhaps a tongue-in-cheek answer to these questions; the answer to the first being ‘yes’ and the answer to the second being that ‘you do something else’: like become an alcoholic, or even a snowboarder…

However, removing this superficial storyline, the viewer is confronted with the question of whether there are deeper, more subliminal, fundamental and perpetual reasons why we continue to be motivated to fish. Hamish, in his typical critical wisdom and eloquent articulateness, was quick to point out that this is what he thought the main point of the film was: Fly fishing is not about catching the biggest and the most fish. It’s about the unique experience and challenge of different situations, the constant learning, the immersion in nature and the connection between the physical and the metaphysical.

To conclude with a passage from Lars’s journal, ‘People back home thought that I was quite deluded when I left to roam this far-flung corner of the Earth. But now, as I look at a large trout, it makes perfect sense. The river is the perfect trout river: generous, but no pushover. Man must feel the rhythm of the river and become one with the calmness of the currents. Heeding to the call of the wild; not to fill the belly with food; but to fill the soul with beauty and wonder’.

This encapsulates the key message of the film, and while it might not seem obvious from the way it plays out, it is, perhaps, the jovial nature of the film that helps to amplify this message. These guys obviously share a similar philosophy to us, and as mentioned in the FlyLife review, it’s great to see the younger generation sharing and expressing this philosophy. Perhaps the film is a dig at the perceived intergenerational misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding flyfishing. A potentially interesting topic for debate, if you’re crazy. Which all flyfishermen are.

In a nutshell, I’d highly recommend checking this film out. You can download it for about $10 from This will give you access for 24 hours. Alternatively, you can buy the DVD for $30-40 and watch it over and over again 🙂


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3 thoughts on “Film review: Only the river knows

  1. the best scenes are those of the actor playing the character of Lars catching huge trout on a cane rod in the beautiful NZ backcountry. worth the money on their own.

  2. Agreed Craig. Those scenes blew me away. Beautifully beautifully shot, amazing scenery, they are pretty close to perfect.


  3. Pingback: Winter is coming | Fishing in South East Australia

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