Released: February 2016
Director: Grímur Hákonarson
Whenever I’m recommending films to friends, if they aren’t British, I always find myself having to change the genre descriptions a little, to match what they are used to. Nowhere is this more needed than when recommending British comedies. Our comedies are often so bleak and depressing, with humour derived from just desperation and awkwardness, that many countries would not consider them comedies at all. Both the Full Monty and Brassed Off are great examples of this- how many classic comedies from around the world include genuine attempts at suicide? Think on some of your favourite British films, and consider objectively how many are actually comedies in the traditional sense. I, however, love that side of us, and it’s with delight I discovered that not only do we share this with the Icelandic peoples, but that they might be better at it than us.
Rams is a comedy, that’s indisputable. Just why it is a comedy is harder to pin down. It tells the tale of two farming brothers, estranged for years despite living on neighbouring farms, with messages passed between the two of them by dog. When sheep on a farm in the same valley get scrapie, the authorities order all sheep in the region to be slaughtered to stop the spread. To these two old men, who have lived their whole lives for their sheep and working on breeding the best flocks possible, it is heartbreaking on both a personal and professional level. The disaster is enough to drive them back to talking as they try to keep their sheep alive.
It’s a slow film, with lingering shots of the men against dated and faded backgrounds, the direction emphasising their loneliness and how small the focus of their lives is. The script is sparse, as the men aren’t much for talking, but every word is used to great effect. You can feel the effort they are making to even be in the same room at the time you can feel the deep love they have for each other. It’s a testament to Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Theodór Júlíusson’s acting skills that the film never drags, and that you feel you know brothers Gummi and Kiddi and what they are thinking despite so little of it being said aloud.
This simple story sparkles with wit, and the camera manages to find humour in every shot. The absurdities of everyday life, the awkwardness of small talk, and the schemes of the desperate are each highlighted and drawn to the front. This is also a very sad story, and you will almost certainly feel genuine sorrow for these two brothers at some point in the film. It’s too slow to be a roller-coaster of emotion, but it’s certainly a ride on the teacups, and it’s gentleness is in no way a bad thing. Even if subtitled films are not usually for you, please watch this one. There is so little dialogue you will barely notice anyway. Get to know our cousins in humour from across the sea. Their windswept island is colder and smaller than our own, and maybe that’s how they get their comedy even blacker.