Throwback Review: Revisiting Rams (2015)

Hrutar, or Rams, follows the story of two brothers in despair. Situated in a remote Icelandic farming valley, Kiddi (Theodor Juliusson) and Gummi (Sigurdur Sigurjonsson) have not spoken for forty years, despite being neighbours. Rams sees the siblings unite to save their livelihood and what is most important to them: their flocks of sheep. However, Rams is also a poignant film taking on revenge, and perhaps even the futility of it when it is pushed to extremes. Rams can be considered Grímur Hákonarson’s first film to take the western world by a surprising storm (in a relative sense).

rams-still-1
Rams. © 2015 Netop Films

 

As the winner of Cannes Festival’s Un Certain Regard award, Rams immediately stood out as a unique piece of filmmaking, and as a release that surprisingly wasn’t instantly shoved into the ‘indie film no one wants to watch’ box. It was given limited release in the UK, but it was widely reviewed even by mainstream publications such as The Guardian and The New York Times.  At times, the film can seem to enter the realm of stock ‘community’ films, a genre that might feel a bit tired, but nonetheless, it maintains originality throughout. Let’s be honest, originality in film is something hard to come by (or even in any arts-based industry), but Rams truly does pull it off, and shows the power of world cinema in a very western dominated industry. Yes, there are subtitles, but I’m sure all you so-called film ‘aficionados’ won’t have an issue with that!

Rams is undeniably a film of great beauty, and a touching one at that. The Icelandic setting, transitioning from cold volcanic plains to completely pristine, white hills, is enough to keep any audience entranced. Seeing these bearded men silently trundle across their farms exchanging threatening gestures is surprisingly gripping, with a sense of a minor kind of suspense underpinning the film. Rams is notable for the way it creates such a heartening and melancholic atmosphere amidst scenes of ridiculousness, ending with a tender scene that could easily make anyone shed a tear. Rams appears almost allegorical, following these two brothers as the season changes and enters into the feared winter season –  perhaps it is illustrative of time passing and the changing of relationships as this time passes. Or maybe not: Rams is on the surface an incredibly simple film, but all the while it is touching and beautifully crafted. The fact that all the characters (including minor ones) are fighting against a common enemy (Scrapie Disease) does not overshadow the Gummi-Kiddi plot, and this is what makes the film truly unique.

Many of the shots throughout the film contain no more than one or two characters. The audience becomes steeped in Gummi’s introspection as he deals with the crisis unfolding amongst his sheep, leaving dialogue to be just a minimal aspect of the film. With that said, the dialogues are also intriguing as they seem to reinforce the sense of struggle that is present through the film. The characters appear to struggle to speak at a normal pace, and the conversations are littered with heavy breathing. Winter envelopes everything once it arrives in this remote farming community. Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s masterful long distance shots unify man, nature, and animal – a bit esoteric, this one. The opening scene sees Gummi walking across his farm, with an imposing vista of volcanic rock behind him. The relationships in Rams seem fashioned by Grøvlen, and the pale colours so predominant in the cinematography seem to place man and sheep on the same level. In an interview with The Guardian Grímur Hákonarson says exactly this, “Beyond farming, there is something special about sheep, most farmers I know have a stronger connection to sheep than to other domesticated animals.” Grøvlen is a cinematographer known for other beautiful films such as Victoria (2015), a film that rests heavily on his masterful manipulation of colour and light.

Sonically, the original composition by Atli Örvarsson is fascinating. It is a pleasure to sit and simply listen to the homely Icelandic folk music mixed with more modern orchestral film scores. The initial droning of an accordion (correct me if I’m wrong) is a recurring motif in Örvarsson’s original score, something that creates a semi-religious atmosphere, especially in the track ‘Scrapie’. In a sense, tracks such as ‘They’re Coming’ and ‘Preparing For Winter’ make the film almost dystopic and tense, emphasising the harsh, cold, and isolated lives the two brothers live. The track Okuljod (accents are a nightmare here) is almost Operatic, and gives the feeling of being stuck in a time capsule sealed by the cold.

Rams is a film of just 133 minutes in running time, so if you’re bored and suffering from the cold, stick it on and enjoy this beautiful and touching story of two brothers and a whole lot of sheep.

Jean Franco is a guest writer for Much Ado About Cinema. If you would like to contribute your own essay to the site, please email muchadoaboutcinema@gmail.com, or use the contact form provided.

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