Rams

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Grímur Hákonarson

Starring

Charlotte Bøving Sigurður Sigurjónsson Theodór Júlíusson

Anticipation.

It’s not that often we get to seen an Icelandic film in cinemas.

Enjoyment.

Solid moment to moment, but never feels particularly cohesive.

In Retrospect.

Lots of stuff happens, but without much charm or insight.

Feuding brothers come to the fore in this fleecy Icelandic comedy-drama form director Grímur Hákonarson.

Like an oversized beige jumper with ’70s-style criss-cross patterns across the chest, Grímur Hákonarson’s Rams is a bit too woolly for its own good. When the film starts, it announces itself as a dry comedy, introducing the prolonged sibling rivalry between Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson). The brothers live as neighbours, both with mighty, ruff-like beards and both sheep farmers who have managed to pass the last 40 years without uttering a word to one another.

Any trivial bureaucracy between the pair is tended to with the help of Kiddi’s note-delivering mutt and a comic appropriation of barking noises. When they head on their trail bikes to a local livestock competition, each with their prize ram in tow, there’s the suggestion that the film will be concerned with the quaint traditions of Iceland’s rural farming community. A female vet judges the rams, her modern methods painting her as an outsider. Gummi loses to his brother and, sour in defeat, secretly breaks into Kiddi’s sheep shed to inspect the specimen that bested his prize ram by a mere half mark.

In doing so, he uncovers a potential outbreak of scrapie, a rare and contagious degenerative disorder found in sheep and goats. To preserve the future of Icelandic sheep farming, all flocks must be obliterated. Yet instead of accepting this unfortunate turn of events as fate dealing a particularly cruel hand, Kiddi blames his brother for this mess, turning to drink and making a habit of falling asleep in the snow.

Though it’s fairly obvious how the film is going to play out (and, sadly, it plays out exactly as expected), Rams spends far too long dawdling when it comes to the matter of settling on its tone. There are moments that stray dangerously close to humour, though it’s never really that funny. It sometimes looks like a soap opera in the vein of BBC Radio’s ‘The Archers’, with lots of harumphing farmers whining about their sorry lot. But interest in placing the brothers’ within the context of the wider community wanes until it ends up being used as a cheap plot device.

Or could this story of people suddenly losing the entire means of their wellbeing be a metaphor for Iceland’s banking collapse? Maybe for the first half, but certainly not the second. There are even hints that matters might boil over and turn into a western-like thriller, with shotguns, spades and crowbars thrown into the mix. But no, it’s not that either. So to quote The Simpsons’ Moe Szyslak, “If you’re so sure what it ain’t, how about tellin’ us what it am.” Frankly, there’s no obvious answer.

Rams is all over the shop, but maybe it’s to be commended for refusing to settle on a single emotional register. The one thing that sticks in the craw, however, is that it does lack a certain compassion for its characters, and while Hákonarson just about holds back from openly mocking the brothers’ poverty, he does portray them as bumbling tyros out to satisfy their petty self-interests. The reason for the vendetta is eventually revealed as being suitably banal, further cementing the writer/director’s feeling that rural folk are childish and irrational and should be left to their own devices.

Published 5 Feb 2016

Anticipation.

It’s not that often we get to seen an Icelandic film in cinemas.

Enjoyment.

Solid moment to moment, but never feels particularly cohesive.

In Retrospect.

Lots of stuff happens, but without much charm or insight.

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