If, like me, you feel most films are overloaded with dialogue and deficient in the art of visual storytelling, then “Rams” is the antidote. Writer/director Grimar Hakonarson’s deceptively simple tale of two brothers who have not spoken to each other in forty years, and the crisis that breaks the silence, is an eloquent cinematic meditation on the complexity of family relationships. The brothers, sheep farmers who live in separate houses on their family’s ancestral land, are more comfortable conversing with animals than with each other. Hakonarson’s film demonstrates both the comic and tragic results of their intransigence.
Gummi (Sigurour Sigurjonsson) and Kiddi (Theodor Juliusson) live in a remote village in the north-west corner of Iceland. They raise some of the finest sheep in the area despite their hostility towards each other. The brothers’ livelihood is threatened, however, when Gummi discovers one of Kiddi’s sheep has an incurable and infectious disease. The veterinary authorities order the slaughter of all the sheep in the valley. Gummi, although he is the more rational family member, hides some of the flock in his basement. Inevitably, the ruse is discovered and he is forced to ask Kiddi for help.
Kiddi, the older and more volatile personality, uses alcohol as an emotional release. One morning, Gummi finds him passed out in the snow. Using one of the farm’s tractors, Gummi scoops up Kiddi’s comatose body, drives him to the nearest town, and unceremoniously dumps him in front of the emergency room entrance. This is one of several sequences that clarify the brothers’ relationship without resorting to verbal explanation.
Hakonarson’s visual storytelling is greatly enhanced by the cinematography of Sturla Brandth Grovlen. “Rams” is photographed in a widescreen aspect ratio and the panoramic views of Iceland’s vast, stark landscape emphasize the solitude and vulnerability of its characters. Gummi and Kiddi, by contrast, are often shown using the frame-within-a-frame device, confined within the parameters of a window or door. While it is an effective use of composition, it also symbolizes the isolation and distance between the two brothers.
Alti Orvarsson’s score is as sublime as the images it accompanies. Orvarsson won the HARPA Nordic Film Composers Award in 2016 for “Rams”, and deservedly so. The open, transparent texture of the music mirrors the white, winter setting of the story. Filmmaker Hakonarson chose to make the ending of “Rams” open, as well, letting the viewer decide Gummi and Kiddi’s ultimate fate. You will be thinking about these characters long after the final credits fade.
“Rams” was originally released in the US in 2016. The film is in Icelandic with English subtitles. It received an R rating due to some infrequent profanity and nudity. Available on Amazon Video and DVD, I watched the film at my own expense.