Icelandic farmers like rams to the slaughter

 

 

Rams (M). Director: Grímur Hákonarson. Starring: Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theodór Júlíusson. 92 minutes

Iceland's entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 88th Academy Awards, and winner of the top prize of the Un Certain Regard section of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Rams is a film that manages to finds broad relevance within its highly localised context. It takes diverse inspirations, from Halldór Laxness' social realist novel of the 1930s Independent People to the filmmaker's childhood experiences on his grandfather's sheep farm, and whittles them down to a simple story about brothers forced by hardship to reconcile following decades of ill will.

In a remote village in the north of Iceland, sheep farmers Gummi (Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Júlíusson) live in separate houses on the same land, but have not spoken to each other in 40 years. The origin of the conflict is never named, but has festered long enough that it frequently manifests in mute antagonism. Healthy competitiveness, yes: the film's opening act sees them pit ram against ram in a livestock-judging contest. But the often-drunk Kiddi is also not averse to firing live ammunition blindly through his brother's window, in retaliation to a perceived slight.

Scene from Rams

When the valley is struck by an outbreak of scrapie — a fatal, degenerative disease that affects sheep — Gummi, Kiddi and their farmer neighbours must face the prospect of conducting a mass slaughter. This is very much a communal crisis; in part the film is a consideration of the socioeconomic hardships of traditional Icelandic sheep farmers in modern times.

But it's the teasing-out of Gummi and Kiddi's emotional and practical responses to this bleak turn of events, and the ways in which it forces them into dialogue, that drives the film at its emotional core.

 

"The washed-out green of the shaggy slopes; the stony crags, idly shifting snowdrifts, and wide, heavy skies make ... This is a place that might on a whim be either heaven or hell."

 

Sigurjónsson and Júlíusson are renowned Icelandic stage actors who, coached by Hákonarson, channel their skills with prolific dialogue into characters who exist for long stretches in stillness and silence. While we know scant details of their hostile history, on the strength of these performances we can sense it, swollen and putrefied, but with specks of filial affection. It is grounds for conflict, but also for the threads of dark humour for which the film is notable. Consider Gummi finding Kiddi drunk and unconscious in the snow, and delivering him to hospital in the bucket of a loader tractor.

In all this, the sense of place is essential. Director of photography Sturla Brandth Grøvlen paints evocative live action landscapes: the washed-out green of the shaggy slopes; the stony crags, idly shifting snowdrifts, and wide, heavy skies make the location seem at once beautiful and fearsome, vast and oppressive. This is a place that might on a whim be either heaven or hell. Indeed, in spite of the film's high naturalistic tendencies, the mute, mystical significance of the landscape sets the stage for a harrowing finale that is nearly biblical in its mythic symbolism.

 


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Rams, Grímur Hákonarson, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theodór Júlíusson

 

 

submit a comment

Similar Articles

Sherpa Spring challenges Western privilege on Everest

  • Tim Kroenert
  • 31 March 2016

If Peedom was expecting to find signs of a growing sense of self-agency behind the docile facade of the legendary 'Smiling Sherpa', she couldn't have predicted a rawer or more tragic scenario against which it would play out. Predictably the turn of events does not sit will with the Western climbers and tour operators, who feel that the outlay of time and money, not to mention the 'bucket-list' imperative to conquer the peak, entitle them to proceed. Polite facades peel away to reveal ugly attitudes.

READ MORE

Death and peach pies

  • Brian Doyle
  • 04 April 2016

His mum was the kind who baked more than one pie at a time and gave the extra pies away easily and casually. All I knew about her was the pies, because my friend brought in pies for birthdays and teachers' anniversaries and raffles and such at school. My friend said she was too cheerful, a remark I didn't understand. He said she was a different person after his dad died, but who wouldn't be after your spouse died at the kitchen table and got coffee all over the business section of the newspaper?

READ MORE

We've updated our privacy policy.

Click to review