Directed by Grímur Hákonarson.
Starring Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theodór Júlíusson, Charlotte Bøving, Jon Benonysson, Gunnar Jónsson, Þorleifur Einarsson, Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson and Rundur Ragnarsson.
In a remote Icelandic farming valley, brothers Gummi and Kiddi, who haven’t spoken to each other in over 40 years, come together to protect their sheep from an outbreak of scrapie.
The farming community rejoice at the victory of Kiddi’s (Theodór Júlíusson) well-bred ram, which leaves runner-up Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) to nurse his pride elsewhere. During his retreat Gummi inspects the award-winning ram for validation of his loss, only to discover it has signs of scrapie – a fatal disease that attacks the sheep’s nervous system. Gummi alerts the authorities, which provokes a multi-decade feud with Kiddi – his brother.
Their rivalry, akin to their landscape, is cold and distant, but, like their sheep husbandry in this bleak environment, there is a mutual understanding. Because this feud is largely understated the audience are given the space, and respect, to soak in the milieu. Writer/director Grímur Hákonarson economises exposition to foreground its realist aesthetics as the characters history’s sparsely emerges.
This mutual stand-off ceases once Kiddi’s realises Gummi alerted the authorities, which sets off booze-fuelled erratic actions in the dead of night. As they acknowledge the past, their relationship brings to the fore such animosity, uncertainty, but above the entrenched blood relations that bind these two. Hákonarson’s deployment of such facets is smart, well-balanced, and wholly natural to the milieu.
Sheep husbandry looks gruelling, and this infection reflects its financially unstable profession, but the quiet warmth beneath primary protagonist Gummi’s surface conveys the importance of it, and the passion one must have to endure. Gummi’s affection toward his sheep and ram is understandably laden with an ulterior motive, but Sigurður Sigurjónsson’s understated performance brings much empathy.
Hákonarson provides snippets of very, very, dry humour that lean toward the absurd. It’s in the subtext that makes these comedic moments highly rewarding. Further still, they compliment the film’s equally dry narrative to ensure the drama is not weighed down by the brotherly conflict.
The film isn’t without the classic narrative trope of the urban versus the rural. The announcement to cull the sheep in an attempt to prevent the spread of scrapie causes such division. This divide between the two sets can provide social commentary for those seeking deeper intellectual analysis (though not necessary).
Rams is a dryly humorous and witty drama of two embittered brothers gaining mutuality to fight a common enemy. Its melancholic pacing, subdued ambiance, and understated performances makes this a joyous alternative to Icelandic cinema.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
David Opie – follow him on Twitter, add him on Facebook or email him at email@example.com.