Absurd but affectionate Icelandic dramedy that puts the celebration of sheep at its centre
Crossing 2014 festival-hit Of Horses and Men with legendary Father Ted episode ‘Chirpy Burpy Cheap Sheep’ was always going to result in something pleasingly rib-tickling; Rams (Hrútar), the second narrative feature from Icelandic director Grímur Hákonarson, doesn’t disappoint as it delivers colourful rural characters, a darkly humorous tone, spectacular landscapes, and a King of the Sheep-style competition. It’s a film where there are as many named animals as people, located in a place where livestock inspire great affection, while human relationships prove rather more troublesome.
Set in a remote farming valley, Rams introduces us to two brothers – the placid Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and volatile inebriate Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) – who live on adjoining patches of land and are 40 years into an unexplained feud. Matters escalate following Kiddi’s triumph in the aforementioned competition, when his prize ram is diagnosed with the dreaded scrapie – an infectious, incurable disease – which leads to the order for all sheep in the area to be culled.
Rams pleasures in the community’s fierce attachment to these simple, obedient creatures – described as ‘mankind’s saviour and friend for a thousand years’ – and it mourns their loss. The winningly hangdog Sigurjónsson makes for a compelling protagonist as he secretly stashes sheep, dodges Kiddi’s bullets, and saves his life (at one point scooping his brother’s frozen, booze-pickled body up in a tractor bucket and depositing it at A&E).
The winner of Cannes 2015’s Un Certain Regard Award is stunningly shot by Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, who shows flair for both visual humour and arresting vistas; his camera acts as an outsider’s eye, in an approach that might at first appear a touch sneering, as it picks out local quirks and absurdities. However, the tone is resolutely affectionate and Hákonarson’s film evolves into something increasingly compassionate, with matters culminating on a sincere, surprisingly moving note, that’s both tender and tragic.
Selected release from Fri 5 Feb.