VOD film review: Rams
Paul Greenwood | On 05, Feb 2016
Director: Grímur Hákonarson
Cast: Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theodór Júlíusson, Charlotte Bøving
Watch Rams online in the UK: All 4 / Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV
As a grizzled-looking farmer tends lovingly to his sheep, the opening minute or two of Rams could be mistaken for a documentary, such as the recent Addicted to Sheep. But this deftly constructed Icelandic drama quickly reveals its narrative intentions, as the farmer finds a dead ram in the adjacent field and drops it off on a neighbour farmer’s doorstep without a word or a look back. Tensions are enflamed even further when, at a best in show event, this other farmer wins by half a point and the men are revealed to be brothers: Gummi (Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Júlíusson).
Even though they live within yards of each other, they’ve faced decades of estrangement. Gummi comes to believe his brother’s prize-winning ram has the degenerative disease scrapie, but whether this is true or the envy of a defeated man angling for revenge by rumour-mongering, it’s the source of everything that will follow. What could be perceived as mundane, or the events of an average episode of All Creatures Great and Small, turns out to be pleasingly cinematic; moreover, once the drama is in full flow it starts to exert a powerful grip. We don’t necessarily need to know the reason for the antagonism between the brothers, but it hangs over the film, and writer-director Grímur Hákonarson manages to keep it close to his chest as to whether any potential reunion between the pair is going to result in harmony or bloodshed.
Another film might have stoked the flames with moonshine and misery, but Gummi enjoys a glass of milk rather than drowning in vodka (although his brother is partial to a drop) and the frequent flashes of deadpan humour keep things on the right side of depressing. Not that it isn’t also taken completely seriously; winter is coming, and the film touches, but doesn’t dwell, on the hardships of this farming community, with many in the valley struggling to stay afloat even before the onset of a disease that could potentially wipe out their entire stock for at least a couple of years. What shines through is the farmers’ love and affection for these animals, which represent not just their livelihood but valued parts of their lives.
Rams (or Hrútar in its native Icelandic) has picked up a number of international film festival awards and it’s easy to see why. It has classic arthouse pedigree, revelling in the weather-beaten faces and everyday behaviour of its characters. It’s a film of magnificent knitwear and even better facial hair, filled with lovely touches, like Gummi’s sheepdog delivering written messages for him so he doesn’t have to interact with his brother. And though it should come as no surprise that it has a pace which might best be described as measured, Rams isn’t dull for a moment.
Rams is available on All 4 until 4th December 2021.