Reel Time Review: Rams (Iceland) 2015

Reel Time: Rams (Icelandic title: Hrútar)
Written and Directed by Grímur Hákonarson
Starring Sigurdur Sigurjónsson and Theódór Júlíusson
three stars

Rams is the story of two brothers, Gummi and Kiddi. They’re both gruff, they both have a characteristically Icelandic affection for their sheep, and, as the story goes, they both have flocks that have been recently infected with scrapie, a disease impacting the central nervous system of sheep. The men, both in their sixties, haven’t spoken to each other for forty years, even though they’ve lived within a hundred feet of each other on the same block of land their whole lives. Scrapie is bad news for the community, whose livelihood revolves around the sheep that will consequently require slaughtering.

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And because it’s Gummi who initially  discovers the sheep’s infection in Kiddi’s award-winning flock, it’s bad news for the two men who until now have had little cause to speak to one another. It’s never explicitly mentioned why the two brothers aren’t on speaking terms, but a wild stab in the dark would guess that it has something to do with the fact that Gummi was solely bequeathed by his father to the land that he and his brother now begrudgingly reside on.

Decades-long resentments run high in Rams, a movie sheepishly touted as a comedy, though it’s probably more of a drama with the occasional funny scene (bearded Icelandic men shouting monosyllabic profanities at their sheep as a means of rounding them up probably wasn’t intended as funny). The film’s vivid views of Iceland’s grassy plains and sweeping snow storms manages to emphasise the isolated tragedy of the two brothers’ absurd feud, and adds an element of sombreness to the additional hurt that losing one’s livelihood would entails. Nevertheless, the movie’s charm is understated. This is due in part to the bleakness of the Icelandic pastoral landscapes, Director Hákonarson’s minimalist approach to verbal dialogue, and the blunt familiarity with which the two brothers seem to convey their respective points.

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It’s not all bleakness, however. Although the two brothers interactions are short and blunt, their petty rift manifests itself in some elaborate, comical ways: Kiddi blasting his neighbouring brother’s house with a shotgun to communicate his resentment; both brothers’ use of a scene-snatching border collie to relay messages so as to avoid actual conversations; Gummi delivering his drunken brother’s passed out body to the nearest emergency room via the bucket of a dirt mover.

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Rams’ ending, although somewhat abrupt, isn’t disappointing. Culminating with a very intimate embrace between the two brothers in a blizzard after attempting to escort Gummi’s hidden sheep, the viewer is left with a sense of life’s uncanny ability to mend the rift between a family’s burned bridges, and to warm some hearts along the way. I give it three stars.

Constipated Hanks and the Mini-Breakthrough

I’ve had a mild breakthrough in the last few days. Or maybe it’s a big breakthrough? I’ve been feeling the lows, don’t get me wrong. And the anxiety-induced highs that come with the acceptance of an uncertain future, too. But something in me has changed. I felt it shortly after an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) session with my psychologist. At the time I was watching Spielberg’s delightfully intriguing and naturally well-done Bridge of Spies – you know, the one where Tom Hanks looks constipated about 86% of the time? (I love you, Tom Hanks. Sorry for the dig).

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I came in to the movie late because I insisted on purchasing lunch beforehand. And so immediately prior to my mild awakening I sat in a darkened theatre room, munching on dim sims and a sausage roll simultaneously – much to the dismay of my fellow moviegoers. If they could have seen the apologetic look on my soy-and-tomato-sauce stained face, I’m sure they’d have been forgiving. Or disdainful. But alas, I digress.
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Something in me changed. I felt it. I couldn’t be sure what it was, but it was something. Something clicked over. Quick and subtle and barely perceivable, but it happened. Am I cured of my complex PTSD? Ha! The thought of a rookie in recovery. No, not cured. I know I’m not, because I continue to be triggered in to flashbacks, experiencing the same thoughts as before this mild awakening.
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But the feelings that accompany the distressing thoughts…they’ve changed. Or maybe it’s my evaluation of them. The feelings are still felt as an intense energy, a force. But they’re not life-threatening. “But they never were! Feelings can’t kill you! I hear you say with mild amusement. Well, no, feelings can’t kill you. But the traumatic circumstances that led to the intense feelings for the C-PTSD sufferer could have, perhaps. So the feelings were a memory of a more life-threatning chapter in a very old book.

But now, something has changed. I find myself waking up in the morning, my Fear Brain kicking wildly at the ghosts of trauma past. Though now, my rational, heaven-sent higher consciousness takes over shortly after, scanning the room calmly to remind me that I’m safe. “It’s Here and Now, and you’re free from the past,” it whispers to me as I fall back down to earth from the dizzying heights of anxiety.

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One of the many gifts of hard work in recovery, I suppose. My advice if you’re still struggling with mental illness? Keep going. Perhaps there’s no foreseeable cure, but it is a universal law that if you work hard, you’ll reap the rewards. Maybe not right away, but you will. Winston Churchill was right when he said, “If you’re going though hell, keep going.”

Onwards and upwards!

 

Review: Man On Wire (documentary)

Reel Reminiscent #1: A review of Man on Wire
James Marsh (Director)
Starring: Philippe Petit, Paul McGill, Jim Moore, David Roland and more

On August 7 in 1974, a Frenchman and his accomplices planned and executed what has since become known as the artistic crime of the 20th century. Over the course of eight months, Philippe Petit joined the twin towers with a series of cables and then proceeded to walk between them multiple times, to the thrill and spectacle of onlookers 412 meters below.

Such is the riveting tale of Man on Wire (2007), which details the almost mythical man that is Philippe Petit, a street performer and tight ropewalker from Paris who defied authorities on multiple occasions to pursue his victimless – yet illegal – dreams.

Man on Wire. Literally.

The film briefly details Petit’s early years as a street performer in Paris, and of his discovery of the yet –to-be-built Twin Towers which immediately became the object of his dreams in his youth. His obsession with tightrope walking in obscenely dangerous places (the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sydney Harbour Bridge being notable side notes in the film) would otherwise be considered insane were it not for the passionate and eloquent manner with which he expresses his love for art of performance.

With its frequent views of the now perished Twin Towers, and the almost fanatical manner with which Petit commits himself to his cause, the film could easily have ventured in to a hokey take on world politics and on a senseless, serial pest. But it avoids this peril in part by exploring Petit’s relationships with the faithful group of co-conspirators who devoted their lives (and in some instances, their right to return to the US) to the pursuit of Petit’s dream.

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“Why not?”

All in all a wonderful viewing experience that both inspires and puts to rest the question of “why?” Why did a man willingly risk his life, his friend’s and his own freedom to pursue a seemingly pointless cause? In answering this question, Petit sums up both his philosophical candor and his zest for life with an anything but dubious “Why not?

Nice touch: Aerial footage of Petit’s feat paired with Bach’s timeless Air in G String creates a sense of dreamy hope for one’s own pursuits of- and realizations for- life purpose and happiness.

Reel Reminiscent is a “blog within a blog” that reviews movies from the near and distant past.