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Sigurjónsson’s Gummi bonding with one of the sheep

Rams follows two middle-aged Icelandic sheep herders, and while one would assume that the title refers to their flock, it instead refers to the two brothers butting heads that are the central characters of this film. Winner of Un Certain Regard Prize at Cannes 2015, this beautifully shot film, written and directed by Grímur Hákonarson, tells the story of brothers Gummi and Kiddi finding companionship in isolation.

Set in rural Iceland where sheep farming is a way of life, the bearded brothers farm next door to each other but have not spoken for forty years. Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson), the protagonist, is smaller, softly spoken and tame, where Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) is loud, brash, opinionated and often drunk. The two men only communicate through Kiddi’s dog, but are bought together when Scrapie, a Mad Cow’s-esque disease that affects sheep appears in their valley, seeing the council demanding the slaughter of all the local sheep to prevent the spreading of the disease.

The cinematography in the film is stunning, with beautifully composed shots featuring the rugged landscape, and a colour palette that emphasise the remoteness and the frigidity of the setting. This makes not just for beautifully composed images, but also furthers the plot and gives the audience a real sense of the isolation that these characters live in. This allows the audience a real understanding of Gummi’s plight, with his only real relationship being the relationship that he has to his flock.  In a touching scene, Gummi says a tearful goodbye to his sheep before slaughtering them himself rather than allowing the authorities to do so, highlighting this relationship. This allows the audience to understand why the previously passive Gummi can then go rouge, building a mini-stable in his basement and saving some of his prize sheep from which he plans to rebuild this flock.

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The brothers herding their saved flock

Unable to cope with the loss of his own sheep, Kiddi lashes out at his brother, blaming him for alerting the authorities of the Scrapie. Hákonarson’s script is minimal, something that is fortunate for a non-Icelandic speaker trying to keep up with subtitles, instead telling the narrative visually, and allowing for some great moments of dark humour. There are some wonderfully amusing points in this film, such as Kiddi shooting his gun through Gummi’s window, something made funny perhaps by the excellent sound design featuring traditional Icelandic music. There is another hilarious scene where Kiddi uses farm equipment to pick up a drunk, naked Gummi out of a snow bank, dropping him at the hospital directly from the tractor’s scoop.

Despite this humour, Rams is ultimately a bittersweet story. The brothers unite over Gummi’s secret flock, united by their love of the sheep and learning to appreciate each other. The ambiguous ending highlights that the film is not about the sheep, but rather the companionship Gummi and Kiddi are able to find in each other.

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