Rams is set in the remote landscape of northern Iceland where the livelihoods of two estranged brothers, Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson), are threatened when their sheep must be culled due to an outbreak of an incurable and deadly virus (scrapie). The brothers must unite to save what remains of their legacy despite neither of them speaking to one another for four decades. Rams focuses on the emotional connection these men have to their sheep and how each brother deals with their anguish very differently.
Director Hakonarson pays homage to Icelandic culture, capturing the essence of the rural and simplistic life of Gummi, whose life is devoted to his sheep. Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen makes good use of space onscreen to highlight the isolation both between the brothers and the outside world. Emphasis is put upon the brothers’ sheep as it is both their connection to the outside world and one another. Losing that forces the brothers to confront the reality that the emotional distance they have put between themselves does more harm than good.
Surprisingly serious at times, Rams treats the emotions these brothers face respectfully, acknowledging that the pain they feel is legitimate and taking its time exploring the power, and causes, of their anguish. The comedic relief is light-hearted yet mature and complements the serious tone well, never taking away from the gravity of the situation; it cleverly entwines both the tragic and the comedic, from the sheepdog who is the only source of communication for the brothers to a surprising use of a tractor.
It is in its imagery that Rams shines, as it is able to show the similarities between the brothers in spite of how different they act. Through the clothes they wear and the love they show their sheep, we’re provided some insight that these brothers are not so different after all, making the path of a reunion possible. As the film progresses, images begin to reoccur, from a lively barn full of sheep to one devoid of any life. The finale presents what is left of the brothers’ bitter struggle to continue their legacy.
Rams is a compelling drama filled with tragedy, a well-developed story that focuses on Gummi and Kiddi and the human anguish of the loss of both a livelihood and an emotional connection to the outside world. Hakonarson does not mock their desperation, but rather shows the endurance of these brothers and the lengths they will go to fight against the law in order to keep what is most important to them. Atli Ovarsson’s impressive score doesn’t distract, only enriches the experience, and along with Kristjan Lodmfjord manages to pace the movie at a steady rate, allowing the audience to take in the scenery and action. It’s an epic, surprisingly affecting tale, and one that shows us some truths about human existence in the most peculiar of settings.
Rams is available in cinemas and on demand now.
Image courtesy of Soda Pictures