RAMS, drama, rated R, in Icelandic with subtitles, The Screen, 4 chiles
The premise of Rams, a 2015 film set in Iceland, is a simple one: Two sixtyish brothers who keep sheep and who have not spoken in four decades — although they live only a few feet from one another, with no other houses in sight — must deal with a catastrophe.
Written and directed by Grímur Hákonarson, the movie opens with the sounds of birds and sheep and a low view of the beautiful, spare landscape of rural Iceland. A man walks out on the land from a modest white house and meets a pair of big, curly horned sheep. Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) speaks warmly to the animals and hugs their thick wool. He notices something on the other side of the fence line: a sick ram. He carries it up to the neighboring house, deposits it inside the front door, and walks away. When his brother, Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson), comes out, Gummi, without looking back, simply points to where he found the ram. This sets the tone in Hákonarson’s portrayal of a deep-seated, mutual resentment, the origin of which is never explained.
More than five minutes into the film, as the two men ride on their ATVs to the village for a ram-judging event, we first hear music — in this case, melancholy strains from an accordion. The gentle music by Atli Örvarsson is used sparingly throughout, as is the element of dialogue, creating a naturalistic feeling and pacing. The use of silence also perfectly backs up the honesty of the actors’ portrayals.
At the judging, a village leader speaks poetically: “In this nation, none has played a larger role and survived through ice and fire. Whatever happens, resistant and tough, for a thousand years mankind’s savior and friend. All year around, in joy and disagreement, the sheep intertwines with the farmer’s work and being.” The viewer, aware now of the seriousness of husbandry in this community, shares the villagers’ despair when the dread disease scrapie is detected in Kiddi’s ram. At a village gathering, the sheepmen are told that all their herds must be slaughtered, and they will have to wait two years before acquiring new animals. One man says, “Why not just take us, too? Finish the job.”
In the next days, Kiddi is twice rescued after being found drunk and unconscious in the snow, and he blames his brother for the disaster. We are convinced this is the crazy brother until we find that Gummi has “rescued” his favorite ram and seven ewes and is keeping them in his basement. When the authorities discover the transgression, a series of desperate decisions finally bring the brothers together, although their survival is up in the air. The suspense and the performances in the final 10 minutes of the film are stupendous.
Horns of plenty