A RIVALRY between two brothers on a farm in Iceland is centre stage for Rams, an often darkly humorous yet unexpectedly moving drama that acts as a quality example of modern Nordic cinema courtesy of director Grimur Hakonarson.
A winner of the Un Certain regard at last year’s Cannes Film festival, the film focuses on Gummi (Sigurour Sigurjonsson) and Kiddi (Theodor Juliusson) who, despite living in nearby houses on the sheep farm, have not spoken to each other in 40 years. Early in the film, a sheep competition takes place which sees Gummi coming second, beaten by his brother.
While examining the winning sheep, Gummi discovers that the winning sheep is infected by scrapie, which results in the local sheep farm community reluctantly allowing the extermination of all their sheep to prevent spreading. Having to tolerate Kiddi’s potentially lethal fury at what has occurred, Gummi ‘breaks the rules’ and personally shoots his own flock, wanting to do it himself rather than allow the authorities to.
But later on, it is revealed that several of them have been spared and are now confined to a cellar in Gummi’s house. It is when the situation is compromised however that the squabbling brothers are forced to co-operate together in a daring attempt to prevent the remaining rams from facing death.
The film succeeds thanks to its mixture of two stories of equal interest, the feud between the brothers and the dilemmas regarding the sheep, surrounded by some genuinely beautiful Icelandic landscape.
For the vast part, Rams is a drama, and a very good one. It is thanks in part to the performances of the two leads, especially Sigurjonsson that they bring a vast interest to the situations of their characters and leave us hoping for a resolving of their matters, even if it appears too high an obstacle.
In a scene where Gummi out of nowhere shoots the first of his sheep before immediately cutting to the aftermath in his bathroom, the film takes us into a territory that makes for surprisingly moving acting. Whilst washing the blood off his hands, Gummi slowly starts to break down. Later on, a dinner conversation between Gummi and fellow farmers is directed with a genuine poignancy when the camera reveals Kiddi in another section of the restaurant eating alone.
Its involvement of other characters makes the film more impressive as it not only focuses on how the scrapie has disrupted the two brothers but the lives of other farmers too. In one conversation, one farmer explains how he intends to leave the profession as his mounting loans mean it is not worth waiting two years for things to return to normal, especially if there is a chance it won’t.
The opening sequences in which one brother loses out to the brother in a competition leaving the losing brother standing awkwardly allows us to wonder where things have got to if they are there. This in turn is acerbated by the fact that neither one has spoken for a jaw-dropping 40 years, yet have somehow continued to live mere yards away from one another. In fact, it is Gummi’s sheepdog that serves as communicator, often being directed by Gummi to deliver a piece of paper to Kiddi. A later conversation between Gummi and a lawyer gives us an insight into where things went from there, doing so in a short but sufficient manner.
When Kiddi discovers that Gummi has ordered in the authorities to examine his beloved scrapie infected sheep, the use of dark humour is welcomed. In one instance, Gummi is sound asleep yet immediately woken by the sounds of Kiddi shooting at his bedroom window, resulting in him having to take refuge in his cellar.
In another, an unconscious Kiddi is taken to the hospital by his brother, who instead of carrying him, literally places him in his tractor loader and casually drops him off in it outside the hospital, without explanation.
Its unpredictable ending is cemented with ambiguity that will remain with the audience long after the credits roll. In fact, one left this film with a sense of numbness at how everything that had taken place in the film ultimately led to what is nothing short of a tragic way to end with. Its ambiguity does frustrate in that there are several loose ends that could have done with being tied up but there is no denying that the aims for creating a powerful sense with its final scene have well and truly been achieved.
Beautifully shot, humorous and especially moving, Rams is a superb look at character and dilemma that earns interest and won’t be quickly forgotten.