The family drama is an elastic genre label that is used when nothing else fits. It is an odd label for RAMS (2015), an endearing tale of an unconventional family consisting of two estranged brothers and their rams who live on adjacent farms in Iceland. They have not spoken for 40 years, are fiercely competitive with their prize-winning rams, and sometimes communicate via dog-carried notes or bullets through a window. They love their rams like kinfolk, pet them, kiss them and clearly are devoted shepherds. While the outside world buzzes with social and digital media innovation, life goes on for brothers Gummi and Kiddi as it has for generations amidst the harsh natural beauty of rural Iceland. Their fractious but largely peaceful co-existence is shattered when a highly contagious disease is discovered in the flock and local authorities decree that all must be destroyed.
The story itself is not the point of RAMS. Rather it is a lyrical and immersive insight into life on an Icelandic farm told through sensitive cinematography and understated storytelling. The vast space across rugged wind-swept landscapes have a brutal beauty and enter our viewing space with a chill you can feel. Long camera takes and even longer silences are expressions about the brothers lives in an environment untouched by modernity, with quirky Icelandic wit to brighten a muted colour palette of white and grey. The musical score erupts expressively to accentuate moments of humour, sadness and hope, often with just a few single dramatic piano chords. The scenes where beloved stock must be destroyed brought audible sniffles across my cinema. Through adversity, the brothers are forced to rely on each other and in the process renew something that should not have been lost so long ago.
As an independent film RAMS is free to roam wherever its directorial and storytelling intentions choose and this results in a refreshingly different movie experience. Many will wonder why it has been so highly lauded because the pace is glacially slow, the actors are more like cameo characters, and some will find the concept of loving animals like family a bit weird. But others will see the primal relationship of shepherd to land and flock, be touched by the love that surfaces from under decades of sibling discord, and enjoy an old fashioned story about farm life in a hostile place. The ending is poignant, ambivalent, and a metaphor for the triumph of love and family.
Director: Grimur Hakonarson
Stars: Sigurour Sigurjonsson, Theodor Juliusson