Up in the cold, remote and exceptionally striking hills of Iceland, feuding sheep farming brothers Gummi and Kiddi set off with their prize specimens in tow to the village’s prestigious ram competition. What follows is an intense, bitter-sweet story of sibling rivalry and an epidemic that threatens their very way of life in this brilliant drama full of sombreness, laughs, big knitted sweaters and, of course, sheep!
The characters of Gummi and Kiddi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Theódór Júlíusson) certainly steal the show, in a film with little dialogue they say more with their gestures, grunts and beard twinges than could be truly said in words. This is wonderfully portrayed with a cold face and a finger point the first time we see the brothers interact. Much like the sheep they love and care for you don’t truly sense their thoughts, feelings and intentions unless you look closely.
The brothers very much play a part of the landscape and either through choice or by circumstance they have slowly grown to represent the harsh land that provides them their livelyhood; their weather-worn grey sweaters, their hard faces, their thick bushy facial hair. Indeed the landscape its self plays a starring role in this film, it is cold, harsh and bitter, but not without moments of brightness and beauty; yet another parrelel between the two brothers. As the film goes on you will soon see how the weather sculpts these brothers relationship.
What really stood out for me with this film was the storytelling. Director and writer Grímur Hákonarson doesn’t take the audience by the hand and shove all the exposition in their faces, as so many directors feel inclined to do nowadays, instead it is left to us to discover. With of course the biggest question being why have these two brothers refused to speak to one another in 40 years despite dwelling an actual stones throw from one another? Piece by piece we discover the history and the complexities behind the brothers all the way up until the point the story breaks into it’s very powerful conclusion.
For those of us who grew up in a rural environment will certainly feel a lot of connection to the areas scrapie outbreak and Hákonarson does an excellent job at portraying the farmers struggles. I grew up in a village up in the Pennines near Huddersfield and remember well the devastation of the ‘foot and mouth’ disease. I think for many in the cities or suburbs foot and mouth disease was just a funny name for a seemingly consequence-less outbreak given that beef supply didn’t go down, but for local farmers they may as well have had their farms burned down as cattle were slaughtered and huge financial losses inevitably followed; some of whom never recovered at all.
In a nutshell Rams is a simply excellent film. It is a very primal comedy-drama that showcases the deep humanity that dwells in isolated lands. It will have you laughing out loud then holding back tears and all the while completely griped. Maybe for some it could be seen as a film that requires a little patience but for me it had me right from the start! Definitely my favourite film so far this year.