Winner of the 2015 ‘Un Certain regard’ strand at Cannes and a film of intriguing realism is Rams. Grímur Hákonarson’s critical acclaimed film is the story of a rural Icelandic sheep farming community ravaged by the fatal, degenerative disease Scrapie. The film opens with Brothers Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) competing in a local ‘sheep of the year’ style competition, dejected by his defeat Gummi examines the sheep that beat his. Finding something but reticent to take it further given the stories of destroyed farming communities, Gummi looks past accusations of him being a sore loser and reports it. Having their farms destroyed to halt the infection, the two Brothers relationship is set aflame.
Realism and a dour sense of humour informed by the isolation and hostility of the environment, one cannot exist without the other. The realism is a remarkable feat thanks to the performances from the two elderly leads; albeit sparse the passion they radiate is not that of an actor representing the words typed in a script they are the body and spirit of frustration, this is acting on an elemental level. Their performances are a life and death matter, Sigurjónsson and Júlíusson are of absolute conviction. If Rams wasn’t as cinematic it would make for a believable documentary.
There is a love/hate dynamic at the core of this that makes this languidly paced drama push and pull harder than typical slow cinema, and that is the 40 year silence between the Brothers. Kiddi breaks this violently with a measureable blood lust, appearing out of nowhere as if he’d been taking notes from slasher films. This black humour goes further flirting with the gallows. With the isolation, loneliness and extreme cold there are many instances of where one of the Brothers is found near death; whether this is a consequence of the landscape or their circumstances is left unclear with Gummi saving his brother by scooping him up with a digger. It’s a wickedly funny image.
The film isn’t solely concerned with the brothers; efforts are made to depict the effect on the larger community and the establishment attempting to keep a lid on the outbreak. The prior is overlooked and the latter feels like an afterthought but as the title suggests, this is a film about Rams butting heads. The finale in which the brothers try to preserve their way of life furthers this performance led piece; suggesting that facing death or absolute ruin will peel away any and all interpersonal issues – extreme cold returns all to zero. Frustration gives way to beauty in a finale of two brothers endeavouring to preserve their way of life.
As inconsistent a statement as it is, Rams is a pleasant black comedy drama; the performances and sly comedy will ensure this obscure drama about the concerns of the Icelandic farming community will find an audience. A companion piece to Le Quattro Volte perhaps, Grímur Hákonarson emerges onto the front page of world cinema with an endearing albeit incredibly slender character piece.