RAMS, drama, rated R, in Ice­landic with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 4 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Paul Wei­de­man

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

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