Rachel Pronger, Marketing Manager at The Ritzy, takes a look at this week’s Discover Tuesdays film, Rams.
Director: Grímur Hákonarson
Featuring: Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theodór Júlíusson. Iceland 2015. 92 mins.
In a tiny Icelandic village in a remote rocky valley live some people who really, really like sheep. This is an isolated farming community built around the inhabitants’ flocks. The pride the villagers feel in these animals is perfectly demonstrated early on in Grímur Hákonarson’s bleak, beautiful film when we see the villagers gather for their annual contest to see who has the finest ram. “In this nation, none has played a larger role in our survival through ice and fire,” intones an elder over half-moon specs to a rapt hall. “Fine was the outlook when our sheep felt fine, dark were the nights with the flocks in decline.”
At the centre of Rams is the enmity between two brothers: Gummi and Kiddi live on neighbouring farms and haven’t spoken in 40 years. Both men live alone, appearing to love sheep more than people – their only contact with each other is via notes delivered by sheep dog. However, this tense silence is blasted away when Gummi detects highly infectious scrapie in Kiddi’s flock. With the threat of a cull hanging over the entire valley, both brothers take dramatic action and are forced into an uncomfortable partnership to save their animals.
The windswept portrayal of a rural community under fire brings to mind Bill Forsyth and Ken Loach. The farmers are disdainful towards the “university-educated southern types” who descend in suits and wellies to enforce the cull. A sense of class warfare underpins the anarchy that bubbles up like a geyser under all that volcanic rock. This sense of two men against the world is heightened by Hákonarson’s soaring shots of the unforgiving landscape –endless ice and stone and iron-grey sky – and an evocative accordion score that wheezes and whistles with the frozen winds. There’s also a streak of dryer-than-bone humour running through the film – sheep in bathtubs and overweight drunks delivered to A&E by digger – that’s very Roy Andersson.
However, what makes Rams distinctive is its unexpected emotional power. Sigurjónsson is heartbreaking as Gummi: vividly melancholy with twinkling eyes in a crumpled face, taciturn around people but collapsing into tenderness before the flock. Both brothers, with their matted beards and bobbled jumpers, are more sheep than man, and we feel their devastation as they face the prospect of life without their animals.
These brothers may not care much for humans, but Hákonarson is always humane in his treatment of them. Thanks to this generosity we are swept along with their plight. Rams remains engrossing until its startling, and very memorable, final frames.
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