Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Grimur Hakonarson

Stars: Sigurour Sigurjonsson, Theodor Julisson, Charlotte Boving.

We don’t get to see many films from Iceland in our local cinemas here, which makes Rams something of a rarity. Winner of the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes in 2015, Rams is sparse, minimalist film making that gives us insights into a little known culture and way of life that is slowly dying. Although it explores some universal themes such as conflict, family, loneliness, and community, this slow moving drama may not be to everybody’s tastes.

Set in an isolated farming community in Iceland Rams tells the story of two sheep farmers, curmudgeonly brothers who have been estranged for nearly four decades, driven apart by some childhood trauma.

Kiddi (Theodor Julisson) hasn’t spoken to his younger brother Gummi (Sigurour Sigurjonsson) for forty years, even though they live adjacent to each other on their family farm. The two brothers physically look alike with their wizened visages, their white beards and similar taste in woolen jumpers. They communicate via the sheepdog that carries written messages between the pair. Their rivalry is also played out as both men compete in the annual sheep judging competition.

When one of Kiddi’s sheep becomes infected with scrapie, an incurable virus, their world is turned upside down. The authorities plan a cull of all the sheep, which will lead to financial ruin. The farmers are asked to kill their flocks, burn all contaminated food stock, disinfect their sheds, and not raise any more sheep for at least two years.

Kiddi turns to drink and grows resentful of the mild mannered Gummi. Can the two brothers bury their differences and cooperate to save their sheep or will this crisis drive them even further apart?

Loosely based on a true story, Rams taps into that sense of stubborness and independence exhibited by Icelandic people. The story has also been loosely inspired by a book called Independent People by Halldon Laxness. This is the second feature film from director Grimur Hakonarson (Summerland, the gay themed short film Wrestling, etc), who has a background in documentary films, and he gives the material a sort of realism and authentic feel. This is a rather dour and bleak tale here, which Hakonarson himself has described as an “Icelandic western with sheep and guns.”

Rams is understated and has a pensive nature, but the tone is leavened with some droll touches of humour. Hakonarson’s style has been heavily influenced by Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, who is known for his dry and deadpan approach. He eschews sentimentality. The film is a cocktail of grim drama and black humour. Hakonarson has drawn upon his own background of spending some time on his grandfather’s farm as a kid to shape the film. Unexpectedly, the film also reveals a more vulnerable side to these grizzled farmers.

There is not a lot of dialogue in the film, so Hakonarson has to rely heavily on the visual images to tell the story. Atli Orvarsson’s elegiac score complements the visuals. Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen (Victoria, etc) captures the bleak landscape of the harsh rural setting, but the film is also eerily beautiful. The cold desolate landscape itself is symbolic of the cold relationship between the brothers.

And somewhat oddly all of the sheep are listed in the end credits, alongside the human actors.



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