Review: Rams / Hrútar (2015)

My Plot review: Recommended
Star rating: Star rating of 4

Gummi, the star of Rams

Rams (original title — Hrútar) is a wonderful Icelandic tragicomedy telling the story of two ram farming bachelor brothers, Gummi and Kiddi, who despite living next door to each other, haven’t spoken in 40 years.

The constant sheer stubbornness of the rivalry ensures ongoing humour throughout the film, perhaps peaking with the brother’s inventive communication method when they do need to discuss certain matters. I’ve come to expect superbly dark tones when it comes to Scandinavian humour, and the film’s bleak comedy certainly didn’t disappoint. In the director’s words (Grimur Hakonarson) — "It's a very Icelandic sense of humour. If you think of the old Icelandic sagas, describing battle and death, we find some of these descriptions funny. It's a very bleak sense of humour, but we come from the far north, without much light, and depression is intrinsic to our humour.“

"Hakonarson has to be complimented for the perfect pacing of Rams. A slow burning attention holder for the most part, it suddenly ups the pace for the conclusion."

The tragedy largely comes from the arrival of an incurable disease called scrapie, which attacks the brain and spinal cord of the sheep. Scrapie is soon detected in various farms, leading to the devastating decision to cull all the sheep in the valley. For some farming families, this means financial oblivion. For others, a signal that their calling is elsewhere in other industries. For Gummi and Kiddi, it’s the news that everything important in their lives is gone. Throughout the film, it’s striking to see the relationship they have with their sheep, treating them far more like pets than nameless herds. With Kiddi being the older and angrier brother with an alcohol problem, he handles the news particularly badly.

I grew up in a farming area of Mid-Wales as the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak occurred. It was heartbreaking and brutal for the community, and Ram’s portrayal of this was strikingly accurate.

Not enough praise can go toward the two leading actors here, Sigurour Sigurjonsson (Gummi), and Theodor Juliusson (Kiddi), who utterly perfect the balance of opposite personalities alongside clear similarities. The catastrophe of the arrival of scrapie means that the two brothers must slowly start to get over their differences, and embrace their most clear passion — their love for sheep.

Hakonarson has to be complimented for the perfect pacing of Rams. A slow burning attention holder for the most part, it suddenly ups the pace for the conclusion, bringing together the story to form a beautiful but uncertain finale.

If the film’s tone and plot isn't quite your cup of tea, at the very least, you’ll be treated to some incredible landscape footage. The remote Icelandic countryside is a visual treat, especially when the harshness of winter arrives. It makes sense that Hakonarson’s past catalogue is mainly documentaries. Ram’s pacing and cinematography emits that sort of vibe wonderfully.

Also, if the crazy landscapes still don’t inspire you, there's some of Iceland’s finest woolly jumpers on display throughout.