Disaffected brothers Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) have spent the last 40 odd years at odds with one another until a scabie outbreak threatens their competing prized flocks of sheep.
It may seem a thin premise to hang a tragicomic parable upon, but Icelandic writer/director Grímur Hákonarson (Summerland) is in full command of his considerable cinematic skills, and before Rams even starts to get going it’s already apparent why it was selected for the Un Certain Regard at Cannes earlier this year.
From it’s opening dedication to Hákonarson’s late mother it is achingly apparent that Rams is a film with heart in almost every frame of this tender and elegiac picture. An early scene shows Gummi adoringly tending to his sheep; each gesture he makes seems full of diligence and sentiment.
Troubled that his treasured ram might be diseased he draws him a bath and scrubs him down with worry and reassurance, using a sweet tone that he simply cannot pronounce around his antagonistic and forever at odds brother.
There are numerous scenes where Hákonarson uses Ozu-like portraiture, “tatami shots” at a low height, allowing the camera to take the level of a person on bended knee, as if in prayer or, fittingly here, as if asking humbly for forgiveness. This idea of forgiveness and redemption becomes a forcible leitmotif in the film, as the threat of scrapie presages annihilation.
Gummi, holding his sheep with tears stinging his cheeks, apologizing to them, makes for a striking similitude and one that Hákonarson will return us to later on, only the next time it’s between the brothers, in a desolating tableau.
But Rams isn’t all elegy and lament, there’s brevity and brilliant use of color, too. One instance shows Gummi spit crimson blood into the white porcelain sink, and this white on red symbolism frequents the film almost like an antagonist; a red truck empties white sheep into a massive grave here, a red tractor shovel scoops up and carries a furry-ashen bearded and rather shaggy Kiddi in a crimson snowsuit. These eye rhymes seem to signal emotional breakdowns of varying degrees with astonishing returns.
Another memorable moment has Gummi take a passed out Kiddi into the same bath he recently dredged his enshrined sheep in, and at another sequence, where rams are glimpsed butting heads, it’s not unlike Gummi and Kiddi, forever quarreling in their seemingly single-minded way. It’s clear who the eponymous old goats really are.
Ultimately Rams is a story of great humanity, of brotherhood and of altruism. When it’s all said and done and the brothers wisely work side by side, Rams reveals a sad profundity. It’s no fluke and a credit to Hákonarson that when the lights came up in the theater I was already sending a text 4,000 miles away to my brother to let him know that I love him and miss him something awful.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)