On the face of it a film about sheep farming is not the most attractive way to spend a couple of hours. With Rams, it is worth sticking with it as it is a surprisingly intricate and enjoyable film. Based on a story told to the director Grímur Hákonarson, the film tells the tale of two sheep farming brothers living in a remote valley in Iceland.
The brothers, Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) are rivals. They both rear sheep and compete against each other, in the local best Ram competitions. They have not talked face to face for over forty years. Their family farm is split in two with the only communication between them comes in the form of the Kiddi’s sheep dog. When one of Kiddi’s rams contracts scrapie it has an immediate effect on the whole valley which is dependant on sheep farming. With all of the sheep marked for destruction the brothers have to try to reconcile in order to save what is left of their passion and their livelihood.
The film is an absolute treat. It works so well due to the way in which the film is drawn together. Remote Icelandic scenery features heavily and informs the whole drama. It is bleak and uninviting but also quite stunning. There is a stillness to the location as well. It is exposed and has a distinct lack of any standing vegetation. What it provides is scope. No matter what the problems that the principal characters face it is nothing compared to the problems the environment can make.
There is not much dialogue in the film. The story is told from the point of view of Gummi. He leads an isolated life and actively avoids contact with his brother. Kiddi is a drunk and is quick to react to any slight on the part of Gummi. When Gummi brings the scrapie issue to the attention of the authorities, it is Kiddi who can be found shooting at Gummi’s house and shouting obscenities. It is no surprise that Gummi only shows any emotion when he is tending to his flock.
The story moves slowly but is never boring. The audience is not spoon fed the plot points and it is at least an hour into the film before the forty year estrangement is really addressed. What this achieves is the film carries the viewer along with the drama. With few points of reference it is not immediately clear how the drama will unfold.
There are some lovely touches in the film that make it stand out. Gummi attitude to Kiddi’s drinking is a case in point. Kiddi is found outside in the snow having fallen asleep. Gummi explains to the man who found him that this has happened before and he knows exactly what to do. Essentially he saves his life but gets not a single word of thanks from Kiddi. When it happens again soon after Gummi simply scoops him up into the bucket of his tractor and unceremoniously dumps him at the local hospital.
Overall, a quiet and contemplative film that draws you in to the slowly unfolding human drama. Recommended.