Movie Review: RAMS (Iceland 2015) *** Directed by Grímur Hákonarson

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ramsRAMS (Iceland 2015) ***
Directed by Grímur Hákonarson

Starring: Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theodór Júlíusson, Charlotte Bøving

Review by Gilbert Seah

Few films from Iceland make it to North America, so when one like RAMS comes along, it is a real treat. The audience gets to see an unfamiliar lifestyle while experiencing a tale set in an unknown setting.

The film contains seldom seen images. These include, obviously the somewhat barren and pastoral Icelandic landscape and also other man-made concoctions like a character scrubbing his sheep in a bathtub.

RAMS is about sheep and rams. As the voiceover narrative informs, for a thousand years, sheep is of foremost importance to the Icelandic people. Sheep affect the outlook of the people. The film begins with a ram competition in a secluded valley in Iceland. The top prizes are announced with the top two ending up in the hands of two brothers by the names of Gummi and Kiddi. It turns out that the brothers are not on speaking terms, though they are neighbours. The story is one of hard survival of sheep farming under the harsh conditions of winter in Iceland.
Director Grímur Hákonarson used to make documentaries, so RAMS is detailed and authentic in its look. It features a harsh landscape of the valley, and does not show the modern capital city at all.

A lethal disease suddenly infects Kiddi’s sheep with the entire valley coming under threat. The authorities decide to slaughter all the animals in the area to contain the outbreak. The story is familiar after the recent remake of Thomas Hardy’s novel, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, the English period drama that featured a similar sheep disease. This is a near death sentence for the farmers, whose sheep are their main source of income, and many abandon their land in despair. But Gummi and Kiddi don’t give up so easily – and each brother tries to stave off the disaster in his own fashion: Kiddi by using his rifle and Gummi by using his wits. As the authorities (depicted here as emotionless) close in, the brothers will need to come together to save the special breed passed down for generations, and themselves, from extinction.

One thing is that it is difficult to distinguish between the two brothers as they are both old, bearded and slightly fat. But one can tell after a while,as one has a whiter beard than the other.

The reason for the brothers’ conflict is explained but not really satisfactory – not that it matters that much. The conflict is eventually resolved, as expected, and this make the film’s more tender moments. There are two extremely moving segments one with Gummi and Kiddi hugging each other naked as brothers.

But the film demonstrates the triumph of the human spirit. It shows how man survives against all odds if he has the will to do so. Besides containing images of wild beauty that includes a snowstorm in the mountains in the film’s climax, Hákonarson’ film is a meticulously and sincere made film that is entertaining while being educational at he same time.



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