Director : Grimur Hakonarson
Writer : Grimur Hakonarson
A haggard leading man, a herd animal driven plot and nudity for survival rather that gratuity. Rams has everything that Hollywood doesn’t like. Set in cold, inaccessible Iceland, it’s an anti-blockbuster that challenges the mainstream to accept it without the need of car chases or explosions and a complete absence of CGI.
Or perhaps it doesn’t care? Maybe it’s a film that knows exactly what it is and doesn’t give that much of a shit what you think about it. Just as someone talking loudly can push you away, someone speaking quietly can draw you in.
You have no choice but to lean in and pay attention. The movie demands it from the opening scene and holds you for the entirety until it slaps you in the face with a big, cold Icelandic hand in the final moments and sends you on your way.
Rams is about two brothers who operate adjacent sheep farms. Despite their proximity, and the fact they came from the same womb, they have not spoken for forty years. Gummi (Sigrour Sigurjonsson) checks the fence in the morning to make sure his sheep stay in and his brother Kiddi (Theodor Juliusson ) stays out. When he discovers an issue with one of his brother’s animals, he worries that the ramifications may have spread to his own paddocks.
Rams as symbols pop up in many cultures. For Celts they represent fertility and it’s the Zodiac sign of Aires. Here in Australia, the wool industry drove us to economic prosperity in the 1960’s and sheep farming is the fabric that holds together many communities across the world. In Rams the movie though, the themes are more biblical.
While not exactly Cain and Abel, you do wonder if the ice between Gummi and Kiddi will ever thaw and when talk turns to a preventative slaughter of the herd, the link to ‘sacrificial lambs’ is clear. With over ninety percent of the population Christian, pagan sacrifice of animals theoretically stopped in Iceland a thousand years ago, but here the slaughter is government mandated, not spiritually inspired. It’s required to rid the valley of the dreaded sheep disease ‘scrapie”.
With his unkempt hair and shaggy beard, Gummi is a shepherd who has taken on the look of his flock. While his mouth is usually closed, his eyes are always wide and expressive. It’s there we see his internal struggle. These aren’t just sheep, they are his sheep and they are the last of their breed.
Rams would not have looked like much on paper. Limited dialogue and barely any character background is provided, there are no chase scenes or romantic subplots (except between the sheep). The conflict between brothers is amusing more than perilous and while the drama over the sheep is affecting, the stakes are relatively low. It’s only on reflection you realise that every line and piece of action had been meticulously placed to serve the story and Director Hakonarson has brought his own ideas to life in a poetic and visually compelling way.
On the surface, Rams is an enjoyable and entertaining movie about a very specific part of the world. You feel genuine empathy for the plight of these farmers and the endless, thankless nature of their work. You see the love they have for their animals and the care they take with them. And then everything flips and you realise that Hakonarson is a storytelling genius and he has fooled you in the best possible way.
None of this had much to do with sheep at all.
A Must See