Set in Iceland? Of course I was going to watch it. The poster itself seems to suggest that there is a kind of mad hilarity underfoot, and in this it's not misleading. However, that hilarity seems almost un-intentional; indeed hilarity is a too-harsh description of the almost grumpy, earthy humor that underlies Rams.
The first shot, a sweeping view of two sheep farms in a wind-swept Icelandic valley, is breath-taking. These vistas form such a strong visual element- whether showing off primary colors in summertime or then the gelid blue of a winter storm- that they have a narrative voice of their own. Joining this voice is the seldom-heard pair of voices of the two human protagonists, the brothers Gummi and Kiddi: Despite being neighbors, they haven't spoken for four decades.
Then, the sudden onset of a deadly sheep epidemic upsets the rhythm of life in this craggy, slate-gray and indeed masculine world. (The women, we are informed taciturnly, have run away.) We already know that Kiddi is a bit of a hellion, a drinker prone to bursts of rage. Gummi is seemingly more rule-bound. Until, that is, he decides to flout the authorities' decision regarding the curtailment of the sheep disease.
And from here on out, even though the brothers are forced to talk to each other, there is no gush of emotion. They communicate through only the few words they deem necessary. In fact this mirrors their very lifestyle itself: Whether in the interiors of the humble houses or their daily routines, all is minimalist. This is a sort of haiku-like approach to life and therefore, film-making, which I found myself very drawn to.
Yet, there is love. Oh, what love! The objects of affection, fat and woolly, are indeed superbly endearing. But there's also an astonishingly intelligent sheep-dog who acts as messenger between the two brothers, expertly carrying notes to and fro.
The actions of Gummi and Kiddi build up a slow tension that has us wondering in genuine concern at what will happen next. There is not even a significant exploration of the backstory of the brothers' animosity, and yet that matters little. All that matters in the last third of the film is what will happen to the sheep. And astonishingly, by this point, you find that you actually like these two stubborn old codgers. Mind you, if you showed up at their doorstep wanting to take pictures or do something else equally stupid, you would be roundly cursed out in a few choice Icelandic words; yet, that is their appeal. And so when the movie ends with that image of the two of them in a position so evocative of the womb, there is a sense of bitter-sweetness. (There must be a word in Icelandic to describe the feeling of satisfaction gained by something so unresolved.)
Ultimately, Rams is a great relief from the tech-saturated, hyper-imaginative bout of sequel mega-movies that is current Hollywood fare. Watching movies like it gives me a keener appreciation of our good fortune these days: There is much genuine pleasure to be had in little-known pieces of work that are carefully crafted like carpentry, but have the luster of a gem.
Director: Grimur Hakonarson
Overall rating: 8.5/10