Rams Review


Man’s relationship with sheep.

Long since the theme of many a joke aimed at the most rural-dwelling of us, you would imagine that this topic is best left unexplored on film.

It is therefore with admirably reckless abandon that Grímur Hákonarson’s latest feature, Rams, tackles the subject. And avoids the obvious punchlines as it goes.

Well, actually it’s more about human interrelationships. But there are sheep too. Lots of sheep.

This Icelandic oddity, having already done the festival circuits and indeed bagged an award along the way, hits UK cinemas this week.

The story is set amongst a rural community in a remote part of Iceland, focusing on two elderly brothers, Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) who co-exist less than harmoniously on the same farm.

There is an unspoken, decades-long friction between the brothers, with their main form of contact consisting of hand-written notes passed back and forth via a sheepdog.

Gummi is quiet and sensitive, whilst Kiddi is brash and loud. The one thing they have in common is their stubbornness towards each other.

And sheep, of course. They love sheep.

You could almost compare their fall-out to the headbutting between two…well, you get the ovine metaphor.

The brothers’ main form of regular interaction occurs through the town’s annual competition to judge the finest ram.

We are introduced to the competition one year through Gummi’s painstaking preparations and the equally painstaking adjudication process. It’s a close thing, but Kiddi’s ram takes the prize.

In what could be construed as sour grapes, Gummi in his forlorn state, takes a closer, post-competition look at Kiddi’s ram and discovers signs of scrapie.

Oh, and for the agriculturally uninitiated of you, scrapie is a degenerative disease affecting the nervous system of livestock such as sheep.

Rams then follows the effects of this outbreak on, to some extent, the community, but primarily on the brothers’ already strained relationship. And it takes some interesting twists along the way, right up to its unexpectedly memorable and lasting climax.

At times poignant, and other times hilarious, Hákonarson’s film has many strengths.

Visually, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s sparse but remarkable cinematography is paired with some fascinating settings. Aside from the foreboding Icelandic landscape, the interiors offer a timeless quality to the film as well as unspoken backstories to the main characters.

And speaking of characters, the key draw here is the two strong central performances.

Júlíusson manages to evoke some vulnerability from beneath Kiddi’s hard-drinking, short-tempered exterior, but Sigurjónsson is arguably the real star.

Haunted, self-centred, generous, compassionate, shrewd, irrational: Sigurjónsson’s rounded Gummi is the audience’s gateway into this charmingly bizarre world.

A film which will probably not trouble multiplexes during its run, this is an intriguing piece which should be seen. I cannot ram this point home enough, ewe need to check it out.

Conor Brennan

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Dates ‘n stuff

February 2016