There’s got to be something wrong with a film review site that gives 5/5 to a movie about Icelandic sheep farmers but only 4/5 to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, right? Well, it’s really a matter of perspective. Force Awakens was a giddy, head-rush of a film, full of familiar tropes and likeable characters, all packed in a shiny and laudably lens-flare free SFX package. It was big on cast, budget and attitude but, for all that, it was no A New Hope.
Rams is a small film, with a small budget and pretty much zero SFX, that still manages to punch way, way above its weight.
Set in a remote, Icelandic farming town, the story revolves around two estranged brothers who must come together to save what’s dearest to them: their sheep.
Although they haven’t spoken for 40 years, Gummi (Sigurdur Sigurjonsson) and his older brother Kiddi (Theodor Juliusson) live on neighbouring farms. One fateful day, Gummi discovers a dead ram on his brother’s land. Scabies is suspected but, when the authorities turn up to order the destruction of the valley’s sheep, tragedy unfolds.
Director Grimur Hakonarson grew up in Iceland’s rural North, and Rams is his love letter to a way of life that is waning but not lost. However, what makes this a 5/5 star film is the sheer beauty of the storytelling. Rams is 93-minutes of surly bachelor guys, who talk more to their sheep than they do to their each other, and it’s magnificent.
Under Director of Photography Brandt Grolen’s intuitive eye, the valley becomes a Noir-esque landscape, full of melancholic shadows and looming darkness. It’s a place of fierce and terrifying beauty in which Hakonarson’s script plays out like a miniature Icelandic saga, with Kiddi as the hard-drinking, hard-fighting Thor and Gummi as the trickster Loki.
We’re never told exactly why the brothers aren’t on speaking terms but Juliusson and Sigurjonsson knew their craft so well that their loss – their unspoken need for brotherly love and companionship – is both raw and tangible. There are spikes of unexpected humour in this sheepish tale too, though, in Icelandic tradition, it’s dry and of the very blackest hue.
Grimur Hakonarson is in love with the little things and Rams reminds us that sometimes the greatest stories are also the most everyday and the most human. Breathtaking.