Winner of the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Grímur Hákonarson’s “Rams” follows the rivalry between two middle-aged sheep-breeding brothers, Gummi (Sigor∂ur Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson), who haven’t spoken in years but still compete in a contest to determine which has the most attractive ram. When Kiddi wins, Gummi secretly inspects the winning ram and discovers his brother’s flock is infected with a virus that requires all the livestock in the region be destroyed. In the process, the two brothers come together in unexpected ways. Funny and subtle effectively, “Rams” has won over critics with its austere pacing and detached style that expresses emotion unconventionally, making the film’s tenderness all the more affecting. “Rams” is sure to be an art-house marvel.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
A.O. Scott, The New York Times
Even though they live in rural Iceland, thousands of miles from the Holy Land, and in a modern reality of computers and mechanized farm equipment, Gummi and Kiddi have a decidedly Old Testament vibe. It’s not just the untended beards and the well-tended sheep. The two men, who live on neighboring farms in a quiet valley, are feuding brothers, locked in a sibling rivalry that recalls Jacob and Esau or Cain and Abel. The sources of the bad blood are never specified, but it trickles though “Rams,” Grimur Hakonarson’s new film, like an icy stream. Read more.
Farran Smith Nehme, New York Post
Director Grímur Hákonarson excels at building tension through long takes, and the actors are excellent. Sigurjónsson offers a world of meaning in a grunt or a lift of the shoulders. The brothers themselves are the “rams,” of course, the question being whether nature favors selfishness or blood ties. Read more.
Mike D’Angelo, The A.V. Club
For much of its brisk running time, “Rams” wrings laughs from fairly broad sources; a lot of the humor is rooted in the sight of fat naked men, which reliably plays as absurdist incongruity on a movie screen. Gradually, though (and almost imperceptibly at first), the film deepens. Director Grímur Hákonarson knows his way around a visual punchline — there’s a fantastic gag involving a drunken bender and a tractor — but his background in documentary informs the way that he establishes a vivid sense of place, which in turn provides the story with a genuine feeling of history. Sigurjónsson and Júlíusson build on this in their distinct performances (one’s angry, the other more sorrowful), silently conveying the weight of whatever long-ago betrayal led to their estrangement. In its lovely final scene, “Rams” unexpectedly transforms from comedy to something far more poignant, and that shift reverberates backward through the entire movie, even re-contextualizing all the nude-dude jokes. It’s a neat trick, and serves as a welcome reminder that Icelandic cinema (a) exists and (b) has a flavor of its own — part goofy, part tender. Read more.
Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times
Serious and moving but also with a bleaker than bleak Scandinavian sense of humor, “Rams” is so much its own film that figuring out where its unusual, unpredictable plot will end up is difficult if not impossible. Director Hákonarson has a documentary background, and he and cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (who did the eye-catching “Victoria”) have shot “Rams” in Búdardalur, in the north of Iceland, an area of remote and stunning landscapes that always engage the eye…Directed by Hákonarson with a sure hand and a knack for making everything seem real, “Rams'” story of rivalry and hostility is not without its moments of bizarre humor, like the way the brothers communicate with each other by using a message-carrying dog named Sami. It’s a cold world up there, and the absurd is never very far away. Read more.