4 stars
Two waring brothers live in a remote, Icelandic village. Proud sheep farmers, they have worked alongside one another without speaking for over forty years, a long forgotten dispute accounts for their silence. While this sounds like rich ground for comedy Kaurismaki style, and Grímur Hákonarson’s drama does share the essential quirk of his Finnish cousin, the results are considerably darker.
Tragedy kicks off at the local agricultural show when one brother beats his sibling by the narrowest of margins. In furious temper, Gummi investigates and discovers his brother Kiddi's prize-winning ram is possibly carrying a communicable disease. If true, all stock in the valley must be torched, his own included. Convinced it's an act of petty vengeance, a recalcitrant Kiddi refuses to cooperate with authorities – his stock line has been with their family for generations. Any attack on his livelihood is more than economic; for him it is deeply personal.

As matters go from bad to worse as they inevitably do, Hákonarson creates a stunning illustration of the healing power of adversity. The claustrophobic nature of the brother's location creates a pressure cooker situation turned into an even more intense experience by his elegantly sparse script. So much more is said in the long silences than in brief passages of (often vitriolic) dialogue. Compounded by wintry solace, the sense of isolation – physical and emotional – is incredibly powerful. Rams has picked up a slew of global awards including a gong at Cannes (Un Certain Regard). And while it’s a rarified beast that won’t find broad appeal, those who enjoy subtle yet complex entertainment will be anchored to their seats.

Once Gummi reveals a secret of his own, one that has the power to destroy the brothers for good, they are forced along a path from which there can be no return. Yet salvation has many faces, a point Hákonarson is keen to explore and does so with a resolve that makes for strenuous but unforgettable viewing. No one, not Gummi, not Kiddi nor the audience is going to get let off easily, and you'll be grateful you weren't. With a one-two ending that will further divides viewers, Rams is the most confronting film about Icelandic sheep farmers you will ever see.


Previewed at QT Theatre, Sydney, on 18 March 2016

Sigurður Sigurjónsson
Theodór Júlíusson
Charlotte Bøving

Grímur Hákonarson

Grímur Hákonarson


Iceland (subtitles)


93 minutes

April 7, 2016
Rams (2015) on IMDb
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