Hrútar (Rams) – Thessaloniki 56
Grímur Hákonarson creates a wry subtle tragicomedy set in the rural Icelandic landscape that feels exceptionally heart-warming while touches the verges of melancholic sarcasm. Golden Alexander at the 56th Thessaloniki Film Festival.
In the recent years, Iceladic cinema has become a new “exotic” cinephile destination. Many films that come from the island country succeeded to participate and be awarded in leading film festivals as the dry bittersweet balance that usually characterizes them has become quite appealing to the western (or southern to them) audience. Grímur Hákonarson follows the trend as his sophomore fiction feature Hrútar (Rams) after the top prize at the Un Certain Regard section of the 68th Cannes Film Festival also won the Golden Alexander Award at the 56th Thessaloniki Film Festival.
Two brothers, Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) haven’t been spoken to each other for forty years. Their houses are close by and they live alone in the same farm in an Icelandic valley. They both raise an ancient breed of sheep that their unique genes are their family’s secret and their only living heritage. Suddenly an outbreak of scrapie, a fatal, degenerative disease that affects the nervous systems of sheep, strikes the valley and for that reason all the flocks should be exterminated. Facing the actual danger of literal extinction would bring the two competitive brothers closer in a quite unexpected way.
Hákonarson – who also wrote the screenplay – creates a truly sweet subtle tragicomedy that can combine the brightness of snow with the darkness of Nordic night and the harshness of the landscapes with the heroes’ soft inner emotions. The director decides to explore their fragile relationship focusing mainly on the character of Gummi who is trying to balance everything in his life. His loneliness, his everyday struggle with his sheep and especially his favorite ram, and of course his brother. These feelings and thoughts could also be seen clearly through Kiddi’s character too, since they both share a unique and especially strong connection with nature and their inhabitant. Their only proof of existence is through their sheep, their presence in the valley and the necessity to carry on their tradition as they are the last members of their family. The brothers are carrying an unusual national feeling of being close to their environment and to a close and small community. As the story unfolds and the brothers come closer to each other, then the obvious similarities will become more evident and their personalities will be fully exposed.
Rams could easily be described as a wry and surely deadpan comedy particularly when it comes to witty moments while they are always in balance with the dramatic and purely emotional scenes. Hákonarson focuses simultaneously and entirely on both genres as he never leaves the audience or his heroes to fall apart despite the fact that Rams is always touching the verges of melancholic sarcasm. The theoretical and seemingly easy rural tale is well-structured and it is presented to the viewer in the most natural way that is in conjunction with the unblemished openness of the visually captivating landscape. Hákonarson’s avid documentary experience will help him to observe everything from a close distance that doesn’t feel suffocating and remains quite engaging at the same time. Once again, everything is in artistic balance.
Certainly this unpretended genuineness wouldn’t be possible without the striking performances of both leading actors. Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Theodór Júlíusson, that their professional careers extend to many decades, allow themselves to become one with the natural environment. Their dominant roles leave a special impact to the viewer as the individual stories are being explored separately. Exactly like their favorite animals the brothers are always ready for a ram-fight and this feeling evolves gradually as their roles also mature with themselves. By observing them then it becomes even more evident why they consider the livestock part of a true and exceptional family. Furthermore, their physical appearances enhance theses performances as most of the times they seem like two angry and fighting Santa Clauses, something that could seem a bit stereotypical but purely deadpan sarcastic for a film coming from a Nordic country.
Rams is a charming story that could easily be a piece of an Icelandic rural fairytale. The impressive performances and the sensitive touch of Grímur Hákonarson’s lens offer a witty and subtle experience in the most natural way. Something that can only leave the audience full of emotions.