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Sundance ’16: Rams
to northern Iceland, where the sheep are brawny and the men are taciturn.
Estranged brothers Gummi and Kiddi are particularly quiet. They haven’t spoken
to each other once over the last forty years. That happens in farm country, but
disaster is about to strike their peaceful valley in Grímur Hákonarson’s Rams (trailer here), which opens this Wednesday
in New York at Film Forum, following its screenings at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
never really know why they had their falling out, but we eventual have reason
to suspect the younger, more sensitive Gummi was the favored brother. They live
nearly side-by-side, tending flocks descended from the same legendary stock,
but their feud remains unabated. The only communication is conducted through terse
notes carried by a neutral sheepdog. Kiddi has just edged out Gummi in the
annual best ram contest by a fraction of an inch, but when the sulking loser
takes a look at the winning ram, he thinks he sees signs of the dreaded scrapie
fatal viral disease related to Mad Cow, scrapie is no laughing matter. Due to
the close proximity of their sheep, a finding of scrapie at Kiddi’s farm is
likely to be just as devastating for Gummi. Of course, he is sure his brother
will not see it that way, so he cautiously approaches a third party instead.
Unfortunately, Gummi’s diagnosis proves to be painfully accurate. Naturally,
this does not exactly thaw the brothers’ cold war. Kiddi lashes out and then
seeks refuge in drink, but sad-eyed Gummi has a desperate plan up his sleeve.
Rams bears many
superficial resemblances to Benedikt Erlingsson’s drily comic Of Horses and Men, but it is a darker,
more Spartan film. Real livelihoods are at stake in Rams, but the bond between men and sheep is even more tragically significant.
For the brothers and their neighbors (for Gummi, they are also friends), scrapie
is like Armageddon.
the endlessly expressive and empathic Sigurður Sugurjónsson’s Gummi also gets
the better of Theoódór Júlíusson’s more sitcom-ish Kiddi. There is a reason why
he is the primary POV character. You can tell a lot about the younger brother
just by the way Sugurjónsson buckles his overalls.
Both the windswept Icelandic vistas and the
rough-hewn décor of their homes vividly emphasizes the brothers’ isolation.
Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen gives it all an appropriately Nordic
look, while production designers Barni Massi and Sigurb Jörnsson fashion a Fargo-like look for their world, but more
austere. It is an extraordinarily refined work of cinema craftsmanship, but the
one sheet suggestions a considerably more light-hearted experience than Hákonarson
has in-store for viewers. Recommended for fans of low-key Scandinavian fare,
such as the films of Bent Hamer, Rams opens
this Wednesday (2/3) in New York, with fresh credentials as a Spotlight
selection at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Labels: Scandinavian Cinema, Sundance '16