Thursday, February 11, 2016

Rams - frosty Icelandic farmland folly breeds sheepish black comedy (QFT 12-18 Feb)

Two bachelor brothers, estranged for forty years, live on adjacent sheep farms in the north of Iceland. Gummi and Kiddi’s frosty relationship is echoed by the harsh winter and the bitter wind that blows across the landscape.

While their love for each other has vanished, it’s their shared affection for sheep that pitches them against each other in best of breed shows. [Only one can bleat the rest of the competition.] Disaster strikes when a suspected case of scrapie is confirmed and the whole valley’s flocks are culled. The farmers face their worst fear with varying degrees of upset and resignation.

Kiddi (played by Theodór Júlíusson) won’t cooperate and turns back to drink. [Three sheeps to the wind?] Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) at first seems to steel himself to losing what one local describes as “mankind’s saviour and joy”. He cleans out his barn ready for the day the livestock ban is lifted. But having reared and protected his award-winning special breed herd, it’s hard to let go of the beasts.

At times the Icelandic moors look like the Glens of Antrim (with added lava trails). But with the snow comes an utter bleakness. Can the brothers’ cold war thaw? Is there a flicker of warmth left underneath their woolly jumpers? Can even one of them hollow out a space in his heart for the other?

Rams could have been turned into an absurd black comedy. But instead writer and director Grímur Hákonarson keeps the film in a low gear and allows the audience to race ahead. There are a handful of laugh out loud moments – often as a reaction to Gummi’s violent reactions – as well as moments of pathos that stop just short of bringing a tear to your eye. Music is used sparingly with a rumbling pipe organ often setting a troubled tone.

This film has got death, new life, family breakdown and a sheep in the baaaath. (If sheepdogs could win Oscar awards, Rams would be in the running for a golden statue.) In the end it’s more Shorn Identity than Rams locking horns.

Rams opens in the Queen’s Film Theatre [the independent cinema that only has eyes for ewe] on Friday 12 February and runs until Thursday 18. And keeping the sheepish theme, they screened the documentary Addicted To Sheep last weekend, and on Saturday 13 the QFT’s Jameson Film Club will be showing The Silence of the Lambs (8.45pm).

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