Directed by Grímur Hákonarson
In a secluded valley in Iceland, Gummi and Kiddi live side by side, tending to their sheep. Their ancestral sheep-stock is considered one of the country’s best and the two brothers are repeatedly awarded for their prized rams who carry an ancient lineage. Although they share the land and a way of life, Gummi and Kiddi have not spoken to each other in four decades. When a lethal disease suddenly infects Kiddi’s sheep, the entire valley comes under threat. The authorities decide to cull all the animals in the area to contain the outbreak. 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.
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★★★½ review by Mike D'Angelo on Letterboxd
A.V. Club review. Simple but effective, or maybe I should say simple and effective, or just, simply, effective. The premise—two Icelandic sheepherding brothers who live on adjacent farms but haven't spoken for 40 years, as a result of some quarrel that's wisely never specified—lends itself to comedy, and there's a sight gag here (hospital entrance) that's among the funniest things I've seen in ages. Overall, though, Rams is more amusing than uproarious, and its underlying melancholy builds to a final scene that cuts through a lot of the preceding goofiness (especially jokes about elderly naked men) to achieve a jolting moment of extreme tenderness. I'd wager that's what won it the Un Certain Regard prize.
★★★★ review by Edgar Cochran on Letterboxd
First and foremost, the importance of the godly cinematographic work of Sturla Brandth and Grøvlen is directly proportional to the intended visual impact that the religious metaphors of Bruno Dumont acquired in Hors Satan (2011) through Yves Cape's camera. Hrútar aka Rams is a powerfully told statement of brotherhood, rivalry, inner demons and the transcendence of family against a stunning backdrop of rural stockbreeding traditionality.
Icelandic director Grímur Hákonarson directly introduces us to Icelandic landscapes and opens the situation with great visual power, engrossing from the very first frame, and escalates our understanding of the situation proportionally to the complexity of the problems faced by the protagonist, Gummi. He raises sheep. His brother does too. They haven't spoken to each other for 40 years despite the fact that they are neighbors and live where they were born and raised. When a lethal, incurable disease that affects the brain and spinal cord suddenly appears among one of the sheep, the land authorities arrive to the difficult decision of sacrificing the entire sheep population of the village. Gummi must now find a balance between re-establishing a relationship with his brother and rethinking his ancient way of life, which is attached to his sheep.
Despite that the portrayal of authorities does seem dissonant against the ambience, conflicts and lifestyle that predominate in the feature, Hákonarson's approach is impartial. He seems to transmit the message that each stratum plays its social role and is a constituent part of a social system, and that in such differing roles, there are conflicts of interests. Nevertheless, the emphasis is much more personal and emotional, highlighting how the importance of family transcends even the most ancient lifestyle practices. The balance between the animal and human protagonists is sublime up to the point of becoming an ecosystem statement which force emanates from messages of brotherhood despite the interference of authorities. It is a fully balanced feature mirroring the life balance that Gummi must achieve with his own existence, as half the problems he faces are related to his flock, even if the animal premise is quite pervasive and suggested throughout as a main plot detonator. It doesn't even hesitate to include effective, well-timed, though brief splashes of humor.
Winner of the Un Certain Regard award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, earning its place among my list of most gracefully shot films, being my second favorite Icelandic film after Eldfjall (2011) and unquestionably worthy of consideration as one of the best films of the 2015, Rams punches you in the face with a very powerful personal statement that considers both human and animal life as equally important under the eyes of the Creator and an ending which ranks as one of the most memorable and hard-hitting of the entire decade, even if we are halfway through.
★★★★ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd
TIFF15 Film #17
Reason for pick – Winner of Cannes Un Certain Regard
Rams is a wonderfully touching and sometimes darkly, dry as bone, funny study of family, heritage, community, and the special bond that sheep farmers have with their flock.
Islandic director Grímur Hákonarson is never hurried in laying out the story, letting each scene play out with natural ease, sometimes with hilarious results. Cinematographer Sturla Brandth contrasts the stark beauty of the Icelandic countryside with the intimate glow of the modest farm houses that dot its land giving you a real sense of place.
Hákonarson stoic leads, two brothers who run adjacent sheep farms who haven’t spoken in 40 years, are wonderfully played by Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Theodór Júlíusson. We’re never informed why the fissure formed, but you can feel the tension whenever they have to interact. Their common bond, though, is the devotion to their flock. You can see a beaming pride when a rural competition is won, and the connection is further evidenced by the fact that each ram and sheep has a name, and the farmers know their individual personality traits.
Rams has a lot of heart, but never wears it on its sleeve. It’s closeted, but sometimes you can see it shine out from the cracks in the door … this makes it all the more authentic.
★★★½ review by TajLV on Letterboxd
"You're responsible for your brother." ~ The Lawyer
When I saw in a trailer that Icelandic writer-director Grímur Hákonarson had won Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes for this deadpan drama, I quickly put in a request at my local library to borrow a copy, and I am really glad I did. It's so easy for foreign films like this to slip by American audiences unnoticed.
This story focuses on two elderly sheep breeders, Gudmundur 'Gummi' Bodvarsson (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and his brother Kristinn aka 'Kiddi' (Theodór Júlíusson). They live alone on adjacent farms in a remote valley and, although they both manage herds from the same prize-winning Bolstadur stock and compete as rivals in local ram-raising competitions, they haven't spoken to each other in 40 years.
That relationship changes, however, when Kiddi's champion ram Sproti is diagnosed with scrapie, a virulent degenerative disease that destroys the nervous system of sheep and goats, rather like mad cow disease. Veterinary authorities determine there is no alternative but to slaughter every animal in every flock, infected or not, to destroy all hay stockpiles and disinfect every barn and holding pen in the valley. What's more, no sheep can be raised there for two years, till the danger of infection is well past.
Under these conditions, the two brothers are forced to communicate and we slowly learn of their past, which left Gummi all the family land and made Kiddi his estranged tenant. We also find how dedicated these shepherds are to maintaining the Bolstadur line, even if it means breaking the law and risking re-contamination of the entire valley by hiding pregnant ewes. In short, the men love their animals more than themselves or anyone else -- a twisted and obsessive perspective on life that's virtually impossible to reconcile without an extreme situation.
This is territory few of us are ever likely to encounter in real life, but it provides some excellent insights into the nature of brotherhood, husbandry, isolation and community. I just love cinema that broadens my world view, and if you do too, this certainly fits the bill.
★★★★ review by Josh Larsen on Letterboxd
"Sigurjónsson, as Gummi, is our window into this world, and he gives a riveting performance—especially considering he has little dialogue and most of his face is shadowed by beard. Hákonarson gives him a breakdown scene that he absolutely nails, yet just as effective are the many moments when he establishes character via action: the way his instinct is to caress his sheep and only handle them roughly when he absolutely needs to; the way he responds to Kiddi shooting his window out by matter-of-factly replacing the pane of glass; the way he hums to himself while preparing a lonely Christmas dinner, as if he’s saved the sound of his own voice for this one day of the year."
Full review here.
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