In Iceland, we are told by writer/director Grímur Hákonarson, there are more sheep than people, which is a testament to the importance of sheep in Iceland. They are animals as revered as the cattle in India.
Two estranged brothers, Gummi and Kiddi, sheep farmers who have inherited their family sheep ranch, have split the property and live in separate houses next to each other but they haven’t spoken to each other in 40 years.
Every year there’s a fierce competition for the trophy of who has raised the best sheep in the valley. And every year the same brother wins it causing a rift between them that can never be healed. But this year is different.
This is a compassionate, heartwarming, and somewhat absurdly comical but tragic tale of how two stubborn brothers living close to each other are actually worlds apart and communicate only grudgingly by way of written messages carried by a sheep dog.
The remote Icelandic sheep valley is breathtakingly beautiful but as barren and bleak as the distant relationship between Gummi and Kiddi. Both are preparing their ancestral breed of sheep for this year’s competition with the utmost focus and fanatical dedication. Nothing is too bizarre or outlandish when it comes to sheep breeding.
But when Gummi discovers symptoms of a deadly disease spreading among their flocks, the news, coming just after Kiddi boasts of having again won the first prize for the best Ram in the valley, is devastating to both brothers. It is determined by the community that all the sheep in the valley must be destroyed to eradicate the disease.
They try hard to save their flocks by hiding them from the authorities but eventually realize that to save their way of life they must work together and put aside their differences. Now without their sheep, their brotherly bond, unacknowledged till now, is actually stronger than they ever imagined.
Rams is a cautionary tale about the extreme lengths that people will go to, to prove a point that eventually becomes insignificant next to the power of love that cannot be explained. This film is a heartfelt crowd-pleaser, a humanist drama that is the perfect antidote for our present cruelly competitive world we live in.
Our obsessions and greed for having the most or being the best are destroying the relationships we should be cultivating, not to mention the natural beauty around us as long as we continue to be so arrogant and preoccupied with accumulating wealth or prizes that we cannot acknowledge and respect as equals others in our diverse community and those around the world who do not meet our own standards.
Rams has a deceptively deep message with large metaphorical implications for the world at large but told in a very simple disarming story. We can enjoy it as a charming local folk tale from a remote culture, or we can apply its symbolic meaning, as many of the best folk tales do, to a much larger context.
Rams is Iceland’s official Oscar entry for 2016 Academy Awards and winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at this year’s Cannes film festival. It’s a wonderfully told, thought provoking tale that has suspense, comedy, tragedy and a great cast of characters from a culture not often portrayed in film.
For more on the beauty of Iceland, see ACT TWO’s article on “My Faroe Islands Adventure.”
by John Schwab
rams film review
rams movie review