Coldness and bleak does not just describe the weather conditions in rural Iceland where writer-director Grimur Hakonarson’s slice-of-life farming drama Rams (a.k.a. “Hrutar”) takes place. It can also apply to the distant brotherly relationship of the film’s two main protagonists and their lingering four decade-old estrangement. Surprisingly, it would take the critical conditioning of the obstinate siblings’ ailing livestock to bring them together in realizing the foundation of loss and emotional indifference. Thus, Rams secures its impacting quirkiness as an Icelandic fable about the reluctance of familial closeness and the self-interest of brooding brothers to begrudgingly come together and demonstrate care and commitment to the woolly wonders that unassumingly bind them at the hip in a time of business-oriented crisis.
The premise finds brothers Gummi (Sigurdur Sigurjonsson) and older Kiddi (Theodor Juliusson) living side-by-side on their farming properties. They both take pride in dutifully breeding their sheep. In fact, Gummi and Kiddi routinely enter their sheep in the village’s “best ram” contest annually to find out who is superior in this regard. There is no question about the siblings’ competitive spirit when it come to showcasing their impressive ram for decorative display. The problem, however, is that Gummi and Kiddi have not spoken to one another for forty years despite their close proximity to one another and the mutual professional that they both share in sheep herding contests.
Both Gummi and Kiddi are renowned for their excellence in producing top-notch sheep as their prize-winning rams are among the country’s best specimens imaginable. Importantly, the sheep represents more to the eye than just winning products of each isolated man’s benchmark livestock. In many ways the rams are their loyal companions and looked upon as filling a void for an otherwise lonely and alienating existence. Neither Gummi nor Kiddi has married or bore any offspring so the only thing of value that they have to show for is their farming identities and award-winning status at major community ram functions for sole bragging rights. Unfortunately, tragedy will strike the brothers both personally and professionally as a lethal disease infects Kiddi’s flock. The news of the crippling virus forces the authorities to declare that all sheep must be destroyed before the epidemic spreads further.
Naturally, the news is devastating to Kiddi and Gummi as parting ways with their beloved beasts strikes a deeply saddened chord. What else can substitute for the brothers’ daily obligations of nurturing their four-legged “family members” once the sheep are gone? In short, this only escalates the loneliness of each brother’s dire predicament. Now what?
The decision to eradicate the infested sheep in the territory not only has disillusioned Gummi and Kiddi but has pushed the panic button for all the farmers in the vicinity. Remember, the jeopardized rams are the reliable source of major income for these destitute farmers so the concern about survival and problematic profiting is a considerable worry to say the least. Sadly, these frustrated farmers have no choice but to abandon their precious lands in hope of rebounding elsewhere in the aftermath of this disastrous dilemma. Nevertheless, the brotherly duo become defiant doing what they must to preserve their vulnerable sheep as well as hold onto their exposed properties. The challenge of trying to hide whatever techniques they are applying to save the sickly rams from the intrusive authorities is daunting but extremely necessary in their hasty minds. The time to break the silence for Gummi and Kiddi is NOW as they must reconcile the existing indifference to rescue the constant element that has made their lives purposeful–the symbolic affection for the sheep that has always plugged out their disconnection towards one another.
Hakonarson steadily builds the psychological tension in Rams and allows the audience to appreciate the emotional bridge that both Gummi and Kiddi have to cross in order to maintain their sense of self-worth and fragile stability. There are many things on the line here in this gentle revealing narrative beyond an outbreak of treasured livestock. Actually, it is the threatening outbreak that shines the cautionary light on the possible extinction of everything near and dear to a couple of old stubborn men set in their immobile ways. Sure, familial ties can be severely broken but on the other hand they can be restored because the concept of family should be solid regardless of the systematic cause for resentment and mental detachment.
The actors are effectively believable as Sigurjonsson’s Gummi and Juliusson’s Kiddi aptly portray scruffy aging brothers saddled with deep-seeded malaise as the only passion they can muster up is their common obsession for catered love and devotion to their trusty creatures–something so foreign and fatalistic to them as blood relatives. Rams is quite moving although the featured angst of broken-heart brothers is not exactly what one would call meaty fodder for the soul. Still, Rams is convincing and relatable for those having difficulty in mending the fence for the genuine soul whose companionship and consideration you need the most at an uncertain time of quiet despair.
Cohen Media Group
1 hr. 32 mins.
Starring: Charlotte Bøving, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theodór Júlíusson
Directed by: Grímur Hákonarson
MPAA Rating: R
Critic's rating: ** 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)
(c) Frank Ochieng (2016)
MPAA Rating: R