An unexpected gem of a film

by Gazette Reporter

WITH all the simplicity and wryness of a folktale, Rams is a low-budget film from Iceland that may offer one of the most unexpected cinema experiences of the year.
Currently on limited release in Dublin, much of the surprise of Rams comes from its set-up, where director and writer Grimur Hakonarson has crafted what is arguably the most indie movie plot of all time.
In a tiny rural community ensconced deep in an Icelandic valley, sheep-farming brothers Gummi and Kiddi carve out their bachelor existence under a blanket of contrived ignorance.
The brothers have not spoken in 40 years, despite living practically next door to one another on the family farm.
A simple wire fence runs the length of the property, dividing one set of stock from the other, and also serves as a boundary for the brothers.
Intermittent and essential communication over the decades is achieved by proxy. Hand-scrawled notes occasionally pass back and forth between the brothers by way of Kiddi’s sheep dog, who seems to remain cheerfully unaware of any commotion.
More delicate matters are handled by way of other farmers in the valley, who seem to have grown and accepted the feud, working around it with all the caution that a force of nature deserves.
There is a captivating familiarity in Hakonarson’s story as it unfolds, and that is due in part because, in Ireland, we are never too far removed from stories of rural eccentricity, farming feuds, and estranged brothers.
However, Rams offers all the components of the kind of stories we are told as children – the apocryphal tales and urban legends that are meant to instil a lesson or truth about human experience.
The brothers may not give voice to their feelings toward one another; they are expressed in other ways.
When Gummi is narrowly beaten by Kiddi in the community’s annual ram pageant, he suspects that his brother’s animal is infected by Scrapie – the ovine equivalent of BSE.
While Kiddi initially puts the accusation down to his brother’s jealousy, the threat of the disease – which would require the culling of all the stock in the valley – is too much for the community to brush off.
Shot in the remote northern valley of Budardalur, the natural environment plays a huge part in Rams, where the lives of the protagonists are marked out upon a vast white backdrop that always seems poised to engulf them.
Using a mix of Icelandic stage actors, films actors, and non-actors the film manages to maintain an odd style of authenticity. Much of Hakonarson’s previous work is on Icelandic documentaries, and that experience follows along in this feature.
While winter is always looming on our visual peripheries, silence is always present and respected.
The story slowly and steadily unfolds over an hour and a half, and for much of that time we are simply watching Gummi, or Kiddi, or the sheep (who all receive acting credits) further the plot through their own often blundering actions, rather than conversations.
This awareness of observation is part of what makes Rams such a joy to sit through. Hakonarson expertly lulls us along in a state of pleasant bemusement, until in like all good fables, we uncover the kernel of truth.
Quirky, stylish, and incredibly powerful, the most tragic element about this film is that it will inevitably slip by many people unnoticed this year.
Rams is a little gem of a film, that ostensibly is about feuding sheep farmers, but at its heart, is a poignant reminder of the human necessity for connection. Seek it out while you still can.
Verdict: 9/10

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