Review: Rams

rams-cannes-film-festival-2

DIR/WRI: Grímur Hákonarson  • PRO: Grímar Jónsson • DOP: Sturla Brandth Grøvlen • ED: Kristján Loðmfjörð • DES: Bjarni Massi • MUS: Atli Örvarsson • CAST: Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theodór Júlíusson, Charlotte Bøving

In northern Iceland, sheep farmers have etched grazing land out of the volcanic landscape. Rams is a film born from that landscape and mirrors it: brutal, tough, unforgiving and beautiful. It took a top prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year.

It tells the story of two men and the rest of the sheep farmers in the valley they live in. Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) are brothers and next door neighbours. They have not spoken in forty years. When communication between them is unavoidable, Kiddi’s dog carries hand-written notes between the two.

Gummi, Liddi and everyone in the valley love sheep. They are the only things that allow them to live in this harsh environment. They treat these animals with an affection other people reserve only for cats and dogs,

Sigurjónsson plays the role of sheep farmer well and he handles the animals as if he’s been doing it all his life. After a ram competition in which Liddi’s prize ram narrowly beats Gummi’s, the latter decides to take a look at Liddi’s ram’s back muscle, which swung the competition his brother’s way.

On inspection, Gummi notices symptoms of a deadly, contagious and incurable disease in Liddi’s ram called scrapie. If the disease is there it could mean Liddi’s herd and the herds of everyone in the valley will have to be slaughtered.

The case is soon confirmed and the worst possible news is given that all herds in the valley will have to be euthanized. Liddi takes the news worse than anyone else and comes to blame his brother for the disaster. He falls into a spiral of dangerous drinking. They valley falls into despair and boredom. It seems their way of life is dying out.

Because of the outbreak the brothers are forced, against their will, to confront the issues they have been avoiding for decades. What happens afterwards is a powerful piece of drama which shows men dealing with things they really don’t want to. It is a tale of guilt, secrecy and anger, about two men who are dangerously stubborn in their own ways.

Writer and director Grímur Hákonarson manages to express a lot with very little dialogue. At many times throughout it what is not being said or what is being talked around that is interesting.

Iceland is a beautiful place and this film is stunning visually. But you can’t give mother nature all, or even most, of the credit for how good this film looks. The cinematography is top class. Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen would have probably received an Oscar nomination had this been an American film. There were many shots throughout out that I want framed and hung on my wall.

Ireland and Iceland have many things in common. Our names are almost identical. We’re both lumps of rock strewn out into the Atlantic, the first to get battered by whatever storms the ocean throws at Europe. Iceland is our nearest neighbour after the UK. But for all that we’ve never been that close culturally and there is not much travel between us. But the characters in Rams are similar to Irish people and Irish characters. The film reminds me a lot of Jim Sheridan’s The Field.

It will resonate with people here in Ireland. It’s a story of rural decline and how communities are hanging on by their fingernails. Just like here in Ireland, all the young people are leaving these communities. Strikingly, there are no children at any point in the film and most of those under 30 are vets sent from other parts of Iceland to deal with the outbreak.

The film has a ruggedness to it and it’s unlikely you’ll have seen anything like it before. Hákonarson doesn’t lessen the harshness of the characters or the landscape, but still manages to find beauty in the way they are.

Colm Quinn

15A
92 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Rams is released 5th February 2016

Rams – Official Website

 

 

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