Brothers Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) are sheep farmers working adjacent plots in a remote valley in northern Iceland.
Neither brother says a word to the other due to a bitter feud – relating to their father’s farm inheritance terms – stretching back over forty years.
Gummi and Kiddi may well want nothing to do with one another, but they do both have one thing in common, their huge passion for their flock, and its impressive ancestral lineage, something each of them is keen to demonstrate by upstaging not just one another, but the entire regional farming community, by landing the annual ‘Ram of the year’ competition.
If one can push strains of the Father Ted theme out of one’s mind for just a moment, this is the backdrop to director Grímur Hákonarson’s wonderfully gentle, subtle and darkly comic, Rams.
Gummi, on suspecting an outbreak of the contagious, potentially lethal disease, scrapie, in Kiddi’s sheep, informs the authorities, much to Kiddi’s disgust, suspecting his brother of foul play and sabotaging his flock and livelihood out of spite.
Gummi’s suspicions are unfortunately confirmed and with the authorities’ decision to cull all of the region’s sheep, every farmer, Gummi included, is faced with the very real prospect of financial ruin.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Whilst the region’s farmers seem resigned to their fate, Gummi is not going down so easily, hatching a secretive plan to foil the authorities.
Director Hákonarson’s slow, methodical takes allow substantial observation of the simple existences of the collection of rather aloof characters that inhabit the valley, whose lives, remote as they may be, seem largely content and somehow well-suited to the exposed, wind-swept Icelandic tundra.
Everything from the brothers’ established form of communication (employing the boundless enthusiasm and energy of the resident border collie to scurry between farm plots, scribbled messaged rolled-up and clenched between willing jaws, rather than actually speaking to one another), to the slightly awkward, stilted conversations and interactions between the valley’s residents, infuse Rams with a sprinkling of genuine charm and humour.
Amidst the metaphorical gathering dark clouds of fate and the rapidly encroaching harsh Icelandic winter weather, Rams is in some way a story of stubborn pride and regret, but it’s refreshing that it’s equally a tale of the ingrained, deep-seated love we have for our own flesh and blood – of both the family and woolly varieties in this case – no matter what transpires, and ultimately the cathartic power of reconciliation.
A bitter-sweet, slow-burning gem.