Monday, February 8, 2016

Movie Review: Rams

Directed by: Grímur Hákonarson.
Written by: Grímur Hákonarson.
Starring: Sigurður Sigurjónsson (Gummi), Theodór Júlíusson (Kiddi), Charlotte Bøving (Katrin), Jon Benonysson (Runólfur), Gunnar Jónsson (Grímur), Þorleifur Einarsson (Sindri), Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson (Bjarni).

When I say that Rams is a movie about Icelandic sheep herders, I am sure that half of the people reading this will simply stop, and conclude that the movie isn’t for them. A movie about Icelandic sheep herders does in fact sound like the type of thing Lisa Simpson drags the rest of the family to, and the end of seeing some beautiful, but slow movie about endless toil and struggle – or a film that Jay Sherman from the critic would love, and the rest of the world would hate. But Rams is not that movie – it is a beautiful, humane and even funny movie – a film that sneaks up on you a little bit, as you’re not quite aware of just how involved you are until the final few scenes of the movie, that build to a quietly devastating, ambiguous final shot. This is an Icelandic sheep herder movie that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to just about any intelligent adult.

The film is about a pair of brothers – Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) – who are both sheep herders, and can see each other’s houses from their windows, but who haven’t spoken in decades, and generally have as little to do with each as possible – passive-aggressively using Kiddi’s dog to pass notes back and forth – and not notes to actually communicate with each, just to piss each other off even more. We get hints of what came between these two, but never the whole story. They live in a secluded valley near a small town, and everyone we meet seems to be involved in sheep herding in one way or another. The brothers have the last of a hearty stock of sheep, passed down from their father, and are very proud of this. At the annual sheep competition – where each farmer selects their prize ram for judgment – a half point (out of 267) separates the two brothers rams – with Kiddi, the older, drunker, less popular brother winning, apparently because of the thickness of the rams spine. Gummi sneaks away to investigate this sheep – and thinks he discovers something horrible – the ram has scraple. You have probably never heard of scrapple – unless you’re really into sheep, there’s no need to. But if a herd is infected with it, they all need to be put down. And since all of the sheep in the valley are close to each other, that means they all need to be put down – and they cannot raise any new ones for two years. Because Gummi discovered this, Kiddi holds him personally responsible – and the cold war between the two of them heats up. But then, surprisingly, it is Gummi who does something unexpected.

Rams is basically a gentle human comedy with dramatic overtones. There are some very funny moments – the way Gummi takes Kiddi to the hospital for instance when he finds him unconscious in the snow, or the comedic sequence when Gummi tries to keep his secret hidden from an outsider. The two brothers are, of course, much like the stubborn rams they love so much – unwilling to forgive and forget what happened in the past, so instead they constantly butt heads. The performances by these two actors – especially Sigurjónsson as Gummi, who has a much more complex role - Kiddi is basically just a drunken ass for most of the movie – who does a lot with his face, even hidden behind the giant bushy beard all the males characters in the movie seem to share. The supporting cast have nice moments – rounding out the movie so it really does feel like its taking place in a community, not just between these two stubborn brothers. The landscape in the movie are beautiful in the early scenes - when it's summer, and cold and foreboding as the movie progresses into winter, and the snow starts piling up, trapping everyone inside.

The end of the movie is probably the best part – as it is here where writer/director Grímur Hákonarson really gets emotional, but not in an overly sentimental way. In the closing scenes, I was surprised by just how much I liked these two stubborn brothers, which makes the ambiguous ending all the more powerful. I don’t think Rams is a great movie – it does follow a fairly straight line, which is predictable – although the ending is unexpected. But I couldn’t help but think movies made in Hollywood (and England) about old people – both Gummi and Kiddi are past the normal retirement age – and how sickening sweet and sentimental they usually are. Rams is different – more direct, honest and subtle. And so much better.

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