Rams

April 8, 2016
Sigurdur Sigurjonsson in 'Rams' (2015)
Sigurdur Sigurjonsson in 'Rams' (2015)

At last, a movie for sheep fanciers everywhere! Rams is a small, deadpan story about two brothers who live next door to each in a remote part of Iceland, but haven’t exchanged a word in forty years. The only thing that gets people excited in this barren environment is sheep. The brothers, and their fellow farmers, think of nothing but their flocks.

One presumes that the “rams” of the title are Gummi (Sigurdur Sigurjónsson), and his older brother, Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson). Both men are in their sixties. Gummi is the quiet, orderly, cautious personality; Kiddi is boisterous and temperamental, with a fondness for the bottle. We never actually learn why these stubborn brothers don’t speak with one another, but it seems to go back to their childhood. Apparently Gummi owns the deeds for both properties, because their father didn’t trust Kiddi. At the same time Gummi promised his mother that Kiddi would always have a home on this land.

The film begins with the most exciting social event of the season – a competition among breeders for the best ram. Both brothers have entries, and the decision is tight, but it fosters an even greater emnity between them.

When Gummi suspects that his brother’s ram might have the contagious disease, scrapie, it precipitates a crisis that engulfs the entire neighbourhood. But don’t expect explosions, heated arguments and car chases. In this part of the world long silences and solitude are the preferred plot devices. Neither Gummi nor Kiddi have ever married, largely because there were no women in their immediate vicinity. Neither seem to have aspired to a life away from this tiny patch of volcanic soil.

Director, Grímur Hákonarson, is a master of sweeping landscape shots. We hear the wind and rain, the bleating of sheep, and the trudge of heavy footsteps. It’s slow but never boring. In fact, there is a surprising sense of tension in this hermetically sealed story. We feel it’s dramatically necessary that the brothers become reconciled, but every interaction only seems to exacerbate their long-standing feud.

Despite their mutual resentment, the blood ties remain intact. When Gummi discovers Kiddi lying half-frozen on the ground alongside an empty bottle, he picks him up with a front-end loader, drives him to the nearest town, and dumps him on the doorstep of the hospital’s emergency department.

This is a methodical piece of comedy in a highly methodical movie. The entire story has an air of absurdity crossed with a stoical attitude to life that probably dates back to the Vikings, with humour and tragedy muted by the vast, implacable presence of the landscape. If there’s an end to the earth, this must surely be the place.

Rams
Written & directed by Grimur Hákonarson
Starring Sigurdur Sigurjónsson, Theodór Júlíusson, Charlotte Beving
Iceland/Denmark/Norway/Poland, rated M, 93 mins

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 9th April, 2016.