Rams (Icelandic:Hrútar) was an unexpected pleasure at AFI FEST. This is Grimur Hakonarson‘s second dramatic film and is Iceland’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards. The movie is set in rural Iceland and centered around two brothers who haven’t spoken to one another in 40 years. Their vocation, livelihood and common interest is raising and tending their highly regarded ancestral sheep-stock. The brothers, live right next to one another by a familial agreement at the passing away of their father. Gummi’s played by Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Kiddi’s played by Theodór Júlíusson, who have a tenuous relationship at best. These two brothers, both gruff, bearded and seasoned bachelors, square off in a community competition for who has raised the best rams. Gummi takes second place in the community competition, where Kiddi’s ram takes top honors: thus, reawakening old rivalries between the two. The movie kicks off at this point to stir the pot of maturing brooding aggression, resentment, suspicion and competitiveness between the two.
This is a sparse, disciplined film dwelling on details and inner life of the characters. Kiddi wins the competition by the narrowest of margins, so Gummi finds time to slip away from the festivities to more closely examine Kiddi’s prize ram. Gummi discovers that Kiddi’s ram is infected with scrapie disease. Scrapie disease is a deadly and incurable disease that affects sheep’s brain and spinal cord. This proves to be a devastating blow to both sheep men and the community at large. The only solution is the complete extermination of all the sheep in the valley. Everyone’s lifestyle and livelihood will be affected by his discovery.
The ensuing battle between the brothers produces some wonderful comedic and tragic moments. Gummi executes a 147 of his own sheep by his own hand for one of the more dark moments in the film and alcoholic Kiddi resist authorities with public spectacles of cursing and rage in regards to putting his own sheep down. Kiddi shoots out Gummi’s windows while cursing him in his drunken rage over. Communications between the two are shared by Kiddi’s sheep dog who carries notes between them both. These nonverbal exchanges continue till Kiddi discovers that Gummi has secretly stashed a few of his favorite sheep away from Kiddi and the authorities. This revelation changes the relationship between the brothers, in particular, when the authorities catch wind of this disclosure forcing the two to combine forces to save their ancestral sheep-stock from extinction. The brothers run to the mountains in an attempt to save their precious sheep. A mounting blizzard bring their escape to a blinding life threatening holt with surpassingly and arguably sweet but ambiguous end that bring the brothers close together in a very unexpected way.
Rams wowed on a number of levels. It was never busy with things to distract and the characters carried the story with stellar measured performances that moved beyond the business of words. There was always genuine feeling in Theodór Júlíusson and Sigurður Sigurjónsson performances and clarity of who they were in their characters skin was palpable and very present. This sense of veridity portrayed in the feature may be the gift of Grimur Hakonarson previous experience as a documentarian. The story is filled with so much humanity and heart that you can’t help but be moved by what is presented on-screen from this marvelous story that bares the human soul in the most earnest manner of the human experience. Rams is academy awards worthy consideration.