Dir/Scr. Grimur Hakonarson. Iceland/Denmark/Norway/Poland. 2015. 93mins
The reconciliation of long-estranged brothers is hard won and tenderly felt in Rams (Hrutar), an accomplished, original work from Summerland (2010) director Grimur Hakonarson. Filled with wintry melancholy and captivating charm, it is a smaller festival delight that should also have commercial legs. Recent tiles like Of Horses And Men and Life In A Fishbowl (not to mention the upcoming Tribeca winner Virgin Mountain) have shown that there is an appetite for Icelandic cinema and the humour and humanity in Rams should ensure that it reaches an international arthouse audience.
There is abundant skill in the performances with Sigurjonsson bringing the lightest of touches to his portrayal of Gummi as a decent, gentle soul
Hakonarson’s background in documentaries is felt in a pitch perfect evocation of an isolated rural community largely populated by men in Santa Claus beards and baggy, well-worn woolly jumpers. Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen captures images of rugged, snow-covered landscapes and ferocious weather conditions to emphasise that this is no country for the fainthearted. It is a lonely life for the stoical Gummi (Sigurdur Sigurjonsson) even although his brother Kiddi (Theodor Juliusson) shares their family land and lives in a neighbouring farmhouse. The two men have not spoken in forty years and Gummi considers his flock of sheep more like family than his brother. Any communication between the two men takes the form of handwritten messages carried by trusty sheepdog Somi.
The shadow that Kiddi casts over Gummi’s existence is economically conveyed during a ram judging contest. Gummi’s evident delight at taking second place disappears when Kiddi is announced the winner by half a point. Sigurjonsson seems to visibly deflate at the news.
The discovery of the lethal disease scarpie in the flock means that all the sheep must be slaughtered. Compensation will be paid but for many it is the last blow in their struggle to survive. Clandestine moves to keep the flock alive might be the only thing that will force the brothers to finally set aside their differences.
Rams may sound bleak and unforgiving but it has a generous spirit and wit that make it entirely accessible. Gummi’s scheme to ensure the survival of the flock has elements of Ealing comedy but it is the deadpan sensibility of a Kaurismaki or a Bent Hamer that percolates through the film in both visual gags and the general tone. When Kiddi is found dead drunk in freezing conditions yet again, the weary Gummi merely scoops him up in a tractor and drops him outside the nearest hospital emergency room.
The film’s warmth comes in the affectionate, believable relationship Gummi has with his sheep and in scenes like a solitary Christmas supper that he prepares by glowing candlelight in a spiffy Sunday best jumper.
There is abundant skill in the performances with Sigurjonsson bringing the lightest of touches to his portrayal of Gummi as a decent, gentle soul whose inner life is revealed in the modest frown of his forehead, the heartbreak in his eyes at the death of his sheep or the generous hug he bestows on a prize ram. A lovely, lilting accordion score from Atli Orvarsson adds considerably to the film’s lugubrious charm.
Production companies: Netop Films, Profile Pictures, Film Farm, Aeroplan Films
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Producer: Grimar Jonsson
Cinematography: Sturla Brandth Grovlen
Editor: Kristjan Loomfjord
Production design: Bjarni “ Massi” Sigurbjornsson
Music: Atli Orvarsson
Main cast: Sigurdur Sigurjonsson, Theodor Juliusson, Charlotte Boving, Gunnar Jonsson.