Film review: “Hrútar” or “Rams”

Though this part of Europe is experiencing the warmest winter on record so far, there is plenty to remind one of cold ones. Apart from festivals and Christmas markets, there are exhibitions and … there is this Icelandic film. It ends in the middle of blizzard: will everything end okay – or will everybody and everything perish?

Events take place in a remote corner of northern Iceland. The valley has a few farms where sheep are bred. Kiddi and Gunni are two brothers, whose farms border eachother. The brothers have not spoken to each other for forty years: a sheep-dog is their go-between.

The film starts with Gunni inspecting his prize ram. Then he spots something wrong in the adjoining field: a sheep of his brother lies dead. He meets his brother again, when all the farmers get together to show off their prize rams at a local contest.

The flocks are all closely related and this year, Gunni’s ram wins second prize, while Kiddi’s wins first. While Kiddi and everybody else celebrate, Gunni leaves. He can hardly believe his precious ram lost and in the dark, inspects both rams.

The inspection ends with Gunni hurrying off with his ram, bringing it into his home, and washing it thoroughly in the bath. The next day, he visits another farmer. Gunni fears something is wrong with his brother’s flock. Nobody believes him, for the local vet inspected the rams at the contest. Surely she would have spotted a disease?

Gunni is accused of being spiteful and a bad loser. Kiddi actually shoots windows of Gunni’s home. But Gunni is right and to contain the disease, the area is quarantined, while all sheep are killed. Part of the barns, tools, even clothes need to be destroyed. Worse: the farmers are banned from keeping sheep for at least two years.

A few want to disobey regulations, but in the end, all have to give in. Though Kiddi needs to be arrested and hits the bottle afterwards. Yet this disaster is the first step on a long road towards reconciliation between the two brothers.

In the end, they flee with their sheep dog and Bolstads across highland towards what they hope will be a safe place, far away from the authorities. But while they are travelling across northern Iceland’s highland in the middle of the night, a blizzard starts up. The roughly 95 minutes long film ends in the middle of this blizzard.

Anybody remembering the fires burning in the UK during the foot-and-mouth epidemic, the destruction of all chickensor pigs in similar epidemics in recent years, is familiar with one of the film’s themes. They will remember how such diseases and the wiping out of whole breeds affected farmer-communities. Each epidemic had farmers like Gunni, Kiddi, and their neighbours.

As in real-life, the farmers are shattered. Some are forced to sell and use the money to pay off debts. Others hope to survive on what meagre compensation is doled out. A few like Gunni and Kiddi intend to start all over again, once the ban is lifted.

This film concentrates on the personal drama between the two brothers. It is not a fast-moving film, relying on action to cover up a lack of depth. Here action and conversation may be minimal, but strong emotions boil below the surface. It is certainly not a dull film.

It takes a while for many in the audience to figure out what Gunni is up to. Then everybody wonders how long he can ward off the inevitable. One certainly feels for him, as well as for Kiddi.

Rams 1The film also contains a series of hilarious scenes, ranging from the rams being ferried to the contest which makes clear both brothers share one fence and one road, to Gunni celebrating a bleak Christmas or driving Kiddi to a distant hospital and Gunni’s ram being a ram while an inspector visits the toilet. There are many more scenes which make one laugh. So even if Iceland, sheep, blizzards are not high on your list this winter, the film is worth a viewing!

Earlier this year, quite a few reviewers doubted “Rams” (or “Hrütar”) would even make it to art house cinemas. Fortunately, it won the “Un Certain Regard” price at the Cannes Film Festival 2015. This ensured, it can now be watched in the very art-house cinemas, it was feared would not show it. Not convinced? Watch the trailer below.

“Hrütar”; French title “Belliers” and English title “Rams”, released in 2015 and directed by Grimur Hakonarson, can be seen in European art house cinemas at the moment.
Kiddi: Theodor Juliusson
Gunni: Sigurdur Sigurjonsson
Youtube trailer film “Rams””

 

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