Rams seems like it would be one of those strange and esoteric films, with it’s unusual subject matter of two Icelandic sheep farmers, both of whom are brothers and one refuses to talk to the other, would be impenetrable and difficult to understand. This is not so. Written and directed by Grìmur Hákonarson, Rams is a wonderful, unpretentious film.
The camerawork in Rams is generally quite static and slow moving, which is instep with the overall pacing of the film. It takes it’s time, in it’s approximately 90 minute runtime, to really get us invested in the life of it’s protagonist ‘Gummi’, one of the sheep farming brothers and the general feeling of coldness, isolation and a slow paced lifestyle of rural Iceland. While trailers for this seemed to have represented this as a comedy, that representation is not quite accurate. But this is no matter for it is quite successful as a drama, whilst still retaining funny elements without them feeling contrived or because the script demands a funny moment, no music to tell you “this is the part where you should be ready to laugh,” the parts that are funny are innately funny and that represents a great confidence on part of the direction in the material. The basic plot, in a sentence, is this: Gummi and Kiddi are sheepfarming brothers who live next door but do not talk to each other and one day, Gummi notices the appearance of scrapie in the sheep and they all have to be culled, which strains their relationship further. Maybe that sentence doesn’t sell it very well, but take my word for it, it’s very interesting to see unfold.
Dialogue and soundtrack in this film are somewhat sparse but what dialogue there is is delivered well and convincingly and same goes for the performances generally. There was a great deal of nuance and humanity in the performances, to me, the characters all felt real and none of the situations in the film felt contrived or convenient, the narrative, much like the realism of the characters, all had a natural flow. There are some strange moments, like a close up of Gummi clipping his toenails, but all these small details and seemingly odd shots add to the overall realism of the characters.
To me, I was absolutely invested and engaged with the characters and even the story, despite not living a rural lifestyle. My engagement with Icelandic culture in the past has been largely limited to reading the Sagas of the Icelanders from the middle ages and for me, this film felt very much like a modern, small saga. However, a friend of mine with whom I saw the movie with, did not feel as invested emotionally in it as I did, which may, in his opinion, have something to do with prior levels of engagement with Icelandic culture or rural living, especially as character motivation seemed admittedly a little mysterious at one point. But I don’t think prior engagement with the culture is a necessity to enjoying this film, although it might help one to appreciate it in particular ways.
In short, would I recommend Rams? Absolutely, although if you lack patience or are one of those people who refuse to watch anything with subtitles, this is not for you. But for anyone else, definitely go see it if you can, I know it might be difficult considering it’s limited distribution. But yes, Rams is a beautiful, honest film that doesn’t need to try and impress you or treat you like a fool, it is confident in itself and is a thoroughly engaging, if slow, movie.