Grímur Hákonarson’s ‘Rams’

Hard as horns, soft as fleece

Although the movie is titled Rams, don’t expect an informative documentary featuring Morgan Freeman’s voice. It’s not about sheep. It’s about two old Icelandic brothers, Kiddi and Gummi (Theodor Juliusson and Sigurour Sigurjonsson), one a drunk and the other a sore loser.

Don't expect a documentary.

The men, both equally stubborn and pathetic, have been embroiled in a 40-year feud about a shared piece of land. Their only tenderness or compassion is directed toward their prizewinning livestock. But when a ram is infected with 100-year-old disease, the authorities force the brothers to kill their flocks. Each decides to handle the undertaking differently, resulting in a game of wits played against age-old traditions.

Written and directed by Icelandic native Grimur Hakonarson, Rams plays like an American movie in its simplicity and narrative storytelling. It is, however, unconventional in its moody atmosphere — both bizarre and realistic — which is what makes this movie a Nordic tale. There are moments of dark comedy and moments of hard drama, and they usually come right after one another, keeping us off balance. Grimur relies on visuals, not dialogue, to tell the story. Meaning is communicated by glances and gestures, or by a series of shots.

Unanswered questions

As a result, exposition is left out, leaving us with many unanswered questions. I mostly wondered about the brothers’ backstory: What happened? Why do they hate each other? The chemistry between them is so alluring and delicate that I craved more of it.

On the other hand, I didn’t mind not knowing the etiology of the disease was, or who the “authorities” were as people rather than just “bad guys.” In this weird, offbeat world, the brothers’ relationship is the most believable thing.

The movie draws you in with its vast, cold landscapes and hooks you with a simple story of two old hearts thawing out. The dialogue is sparse and most of the scenes consist of one or two shots, so it’s definitely a slow burn — but the payoff is worth it, with a sweet and savory finish that will stay with you for a long time.

Rams puts Iceland filmmaking on the map — I can’t wait to journey back for more Scandinavian storytelling.

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