Directed by Grimur Hakonarson. Iceland. 2015. R.. 93 minutes. Cohen Media Group. Digital.
Fri., April 22, 2016 thru Thu., April 28, 2016
We are so pleased to screen Rams, one of our favorite films from the 2015 Toronto Film Festival. “Even though they live in rural Iceland, thousands of miles from the Holy Land, and in a modern reality of computers and mechanized farm equipment, Gummi and Kiddi have a decidedly Old Testament vibe. Its not just the untended beards and the well-tended sheep. The two men, who live on neighboring farms in a quiet valley, are feuding brothers, locked in a sibling rivalry that recalls Jacob and Esau or Cain and Abel. The sources of the bad blood are never specified, but it trickles though Rams, Grimur Hakonarsons new film, like an icy stream.
Kiddi (Theodor Juliusson) is larger, ruddier, drunker and luckier than Gummi (Sigurdur Sigurjonsson), and maybe better at raising and breeding sheep. Neither brother seems to have any other family, but their isolation does not spark any desire for each others company. When Gummi’s best ram comes in second to Kiddi’s at an annual contest for local breeders, its clear that this is not his first such humiliation. His desire for revenge, which may be aided by something like divine intervention, gives this clear-eyed and eccentric movie its plot.
Mr. Hakonarson’s patient attention to the brothers daily routines yields some low-key humor, and Rams is in some respects a familiar kind of Nordic comedy, deadpan and touched with melancholy, about stoical men with unusual jobs. There are simple, satisfying sight gags built around the clumsiness of farm machinery, the absurdity of sheep and the indignities of advancing age and cold weather. But despite its affection for the quirks of its characters and their milieu, the film is most memorable for its gravity, for the almost tragic nobility it finds in sad and silly circumstances.
An outbreak of scrapie, an ovine affliction similar to mad cow disease, brings havoc to the valley. Flocks are slaughtered, livelihoods are wiped out and an ancient way of life is threatened with ruin. Mr. Hakonarson observes the grief and the fatalism that the epidemic provokes in Gummi and Kiddi’s other neighbors, and at times Rams has the quiet specificity of a documentary. Government inspectors and veterinarians show up to monitor the killing of the animals and the cleaning of the barns, and their calm, implacable authority only increases the sense of helplessness and devastation.
As the crisis deepens, and as Gummi devises a devious, illegal response to it one that will also settle scores once and for all with his brother the film takes on a stark, elemental power. The landscape of snow and volcanic rock threatens to overwhelm the creatures that call it home, and the modern world recedes in the face of a primal story of kinship and survival. The last shot is especially hard to shake. Tender and poignant, it also has the haunting authority of an ancient stone carving, as if these brothers were ordinary flesh-and-blood creatures transformed into figures of myth.” (A.O. Scott, The New York Times)
Rams is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for language and brief male nudity. In Icelandic, with English subtitles.
“At first it charmed me, and then it snuck up and punched me in the gut emotionally. That doesn’t happen a lot. It really caught me off guard.”
– Spotlight director Tom McCarthy
“Every moment in Hakonarson’s strange and wonderful film is imbued with mystery and revealing dignity.”
– Chuck Bowen, Slant Magazine
Watch Rams director Grimur Hakonarson narrate a passage of his film for Anatomy of a Scene from the New York Times.
Access more reviews at metacritic.com.