For a farmer, livestock can mean much more than just a livelihood. Grímur Hákonarson’s Rams shows that even with the promise of financial security, a farmer may not want to slaughter his entire herd because they mean too much to him; but does that herd mean more than family?
In rural Iceland, brothers Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) are shepherds who, despite living on the same farmstead inherited from their parents, have separate herds and haven’t spoken in 40 years. When Kiddi’s herd contract a disease, the entire valley of farmers are told that the best of course of action is to slaughter their herds and purge any possible traces on their farms. All of the farmers are offered sizeable compensation for their losses, but their financial security is only one of many considerations, including a lack of purpose without the work and a certain relationship which develops with one’s animals. The brothers’ reactions to the proposition of slaughter seem quite different, but could their ultimate choices be the thing to reunite them?
True to many films from this part of the world, there is a definite level of subtlety. The style is delicate and muted (apart from a few choice moments), and the story unfolds in a way that feels simplistic in the best way possible. The subtleties do, however, make for a picture that is tonally vague and without a specific genre: there are humorous parts, but it’s not quite a comedy, and there are sad moments, but it’s not quite a drama. This is certainly not a traditional Hollywood type of film, as the audience cannot have a certain expectation going into it.
The truly appreciable moments of the film are in the performances of the two leads. Sigurjónsson is the focus of the majority of the film, delivering a range of emotion through Gummi’s devotion, passion, and love for both his herd and, in his own way, his brother. For the first two acts, Júlíusson serves his role of comic relief delightfully, but his true time to shine comes late in the third act as he demonstrates the enduring quality of brotherly love.
The ending of the film is fascinating in its own right. Without giving too much away, there is a change of priority that comes in the last few minutes of the film. The result was a room full of viewers who were unsure how to feel: some reacted with laughter, some left with a heavy heart, but everyone had much to consider about what they had just seen. It becomes clear in hindsight that everything leading up to the final moment demonstrates that despite how important something can be to a person, other parts of their life can take priority when push comes to shove. The ending is an ingenious way of tying a neat bow around the film’s central themes of love and devotion.
If, as a viewer, you are capable of watching a film without any expectation, then you would certainly appreciate this subtle tale of ovine and brotherly love.
3.5 (out of 5)
Rams is now playing at the Hyland Cinema.
Thomas Vickers is a London-based filmmaker and The Beat Magazine's resident film critic.