So you’re either interested in an Icelandic drama about a pair of fraternal sheep farmers who haven’t spoken in 40 years and must deal with the effects of degeneritive disease scrapie on their respective flocks, or you’re not. Those who take a punt on Grímur Hákonarson’s Rams will be rewarded with a fine film that serves as a touching character study as well as a fascinating glimpse into the travails faced by a rural community. It also sheds light on the bond that sheep farmers form with their herds, which is the kind of thing that will inevitably draw snickering from some quarters but Popcorn Nights is above such idiocy, so that’s one in the eye for ewe. (See also last year’s documentary Addicted To Sheep.) The two brothers in question here are Gummi and Kiddi, played by Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Theodór Júlíusson respectively, and they own patches of land that share a border but were once combined to make one family plot. The brothers fell out over something – it’s never really clear what, but it may have been to do with the way their inheritence was divided, or perhaps as neither have ever married it could have been over a girl – and their stubbornness has resulted in four decades’ worth of silence. When they do need to communicate it involves pointing or passing hand-written messages back-and-forth using by a sheepdog, although Kiddi – the more aggressive of the two who douses his own unhappiness with alcohol – has a penchant for expressing displeasure by getting absolutely plastered and firing a gun at his brother’s bedroom window.

As a result of their fractured relationship both brothers desperately want to win the annual ‘Best Ram’ competition that takes place in a nearby town. In the aftermath of one of these events it’s discovered that some of the sheep have scrapie, necessitating a culling of both men’s flocks and those of many other farmers in the same valley. These events gradually force the two brothers to address their long-simmering hatred, lest the family tradition be lost forever. Hákonarson, who wrote the screenplay, turns a fairly simple premise into an engaging and profoundly moving piece, superbly acted by both leads, that skillfully negotiates the fine line between comedy and tragedy. The link between head-butting rams and head-strong warring brothers is obvious but never overplayed during the film, while their personality differences are not simply manifest through shouting matches, and are instead carefully described through a number of well-observed interactions, both with other humans and with their own animals. Similarly the director doesn’t overplay the symbolic nature of the flock: when the sheep are gone there will be no reason for Gummi and Kiddi to remain living next door to one another, and given their old age it would be difficult for either of them to start afresh and carry on as farmers; the culling of the sheep will surely spell the end of this family, so Gummi’s actions in the film are informed not just through love for his animals but because of what these sheep stand for. Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s cinematography is naturally informed by the landscape’s shades of green, brown and blue, which gives way to the white of snow and the black of volcanic rock as winter takes hold; the Icelandic countryside filmed is as spectacular as it is bleak. Natural light is relied upon for the scenes set indoors, and there’s something enjoyable about watching the men rattle around in their homes, which are cluttered with all manner of useful farming tools and objects. With sure-handed direction, a suitably morose soundtrack by Atli Örvarsson, a well-written screenplay and some fine acting, particularly by Sigurjónsson, who has the bigger role, Rams is well worth your time.

Directed by: Grímur Hákonarson.
Written by: Grímur Hákonarson.
Starring: Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theodór Júlíusson, Charlotte Bøving, Jon Benonysson.
Cinematography: Sturla Brandth Grøvlen.
Editing: Kristján Loðmfjörð.
Music: Atli Örvarsson.
Running Time:
91 minutes.

21 Responses to “0466 | Hrútar (Rams)”

  1. Jordan Dodd

    Boy I like the sound of this. It was playing last year at a Scandinavian Film fest…. I was angry at myself for missing it. I can’t wait for April 7th, that’s the release date down here. Looking forward to it!

      • Jordan Dodd

        Yeah I remember reading about it when the fest was playing… your review has me really looking forward to this. We seem to watch similar stuff and share similar tastes, for the most part anyway

    • Stu

      I’m afraid I don’t know, sorry – I haven’t seen that. I watched it via Curzon, as it happens – worth the tenner if it isn’t on at a cinema near you!

      • movieblort

        I’ll double check. I live in Richmond so they might be showing it, but to be honest I prefer watching films at home at the moment. Too many bad experiences with inconsiderate movie-goers!

        Great film selections by the way. Been a while since I went on your website but spent most of the morning reading through a lot of them. Love the writing style and some very obscure selections.

        • Stu

          I know what you mean about fellow movie-goers. I had someone in the row behind leave their feet dangling next to my head the other week during The Revenant. I asked politely if they’d put their feet down but they refused and I was too stubborn to shift seats.

        • movieblort

          I could write all day about them. That sounds awful.

          At The Hateful Eight there was a guy vaping 2 seats over from me.

          At the Korean Film Festival movie, “The Thieves”, some guy was reading the subtitles out loud in places, and then letting his partner know whenever he discovered a plot point.

          I came out of the film “The Boy” and some girl said “That was literally the worst thing I have ever seen”, after showing up 10 minutes late and eating loudly through the entire thing.

          When I saw Betibu a few years ago, a couple 2 rows down had a huge portion of fish and chips to eat as cinema food.

          Then throw in the countless loud eaters, phone call takers, late arrivals and wrong seat sitters and you have the reasons why I choose to stay at home (or go for the Curzon showings – all of these have been in Odeons).

        • Stu

          I’m not surprised you stay at home! If I ever have kids I’m going to raise them not to speak during the film, not to put their feet on the seats and not to look at their mobile phones. Mind you it’ll probably be about £25 a head to go to the cinema by then anyway.

        • movieblort

          True, especially about the phones. My girlfriend sits there on her phone throughout a whole film at home. Ruins it for me because I’m then distracted with her not enjoying it. Now we have a phone ban!

          What’s your nearest cinema? I’m spoiled for choice in London. Where I work there’s 2 good Picturehouses nearby (Ritzy and Clapham), and in Richmond where I live there’s 2 Odeons and a Curzon. There’s no real replacement for watching films at the cinema, if I had the choice I’d watch all films on my own in silence though.

        • Stu

          I live down in Kent – luckily I have an Odeon nearby plus an arthouse place that gets stuff a month or two later, so they tend to have the smaller films. But I work in London occasionally and go in specifically to see stuff at the the Curzon, ICA, BFI or Picturehouse Central if I can. I know the Brixton Ritzy well, I used to live fairly near and that was my nearest cinema. Loved it….great bar too.

  2. Cindy Bruchman

    I’m all for Islandic sheep and the fraternal order of their herders. I don’t know where you find these films to watch, but your eclectic devotion to all films is remarkable, Stu.

    • Stu

      It’s the hot genre for 2016 Cindy! This one’s recently been released in the UK (albeit only in a few cinemas) and won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes last year, so I guess it’s not that obscure, but it’s definitely the kind of subject matter that will put some people off. Which is a shame, really – it’s a very good film.


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