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.

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