"Rams" by Grímur Hákonarson (IS)
Festival de Cannes 2015 - Un Certain Regard
Name: Niels Putman
When one thinks about Iceland, it’s pretty evident to imagine its vigorous and inspiring nature – a notion more commonly known than its cinema. Even though the Icelandic cinema has been silently blooming since the early 90’s, it gets easily forgotten next to more internationally successful Scandinavian countries like Denmark or Norway. In Grímur Hákonarson’s second feature Rams, our first romantic association to its country of production is as alive as one could hope: the colossal Icelandic mountains feature a home for a tender story to take place.
This story is set in a more remote farm village, where the grass shouldn’t look greener on the other side because that might lead to bickering between two neighbouring shepherds. In this case, Gummi and Kiddi are not only cattlemen who live next door, they also happen to be brothers. Although they might prefer to ignore their shared DNA, since the two of them have been communicating solely through notes they pass on to each other via their eager sheep dog for over forty years. They both have long beards, broad shoulders and a beer belly covered underneath their clothing and they might even share the same mind-set, but that doesn’t allow them to get along. The reason behind their emotional distance remains unclear, yet that doesn’t cut down the set conflict.
When Gummi, the protagonist whose eyes give away a soft heart, finds a deceased ram in the fields and loses a ram-breeding contest to his brother after that, things are set to go wrong. He starts examining his brother’s herd and comes to the conclusion that his sheep might be contaminated with the incurable scrapie-disease that affects the nervous system of sheep and goats. In order to put an end to this contagious virus, the local committee decides to kill all the sheep on the hill, including the ones from the two brothers who are used to behaving like two grown-up rams themselves – constantly bumping their heads into one another. When the only thing they live for is getting threatened, it gets clear they might need each other to achieve their shared goal in the end.
Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s cinematography is perfectly controlled by mostly fixed shots, often seen through a wide lens. While dialogue is limited, powerful imagery prevails: the abundant fields and rocky mountains stand in great contrast to the intimate story that is being told. It’s a welcome metaphor to describe the discrepancy between the outside and the inside of both the brothers who are truthfully two robust-looking, but kind-hearted bachelor men.
Hákonarson easily balances witty, mostly physical comedy with elusive, but never too heavy-handed emotion. It’s a simple story, told in a surprising and original fashion that keeps the audience invested until the very end. The final sequence serves as a palpable, but thought-provoking allegory, when an unfortunate event endangers their relationship even more.
Rams turns out to be a wondrous, bodily heated tale set in the cold Icelandic landscapes. Its parable-like qualities give the director everything he needs to tell a surprisingly compelling and delicate story about brotherly love and forgiveness.