Rams ~ A Non-Spoiler Review

Reading Time: 6 minutes
Photo montage of scenes from Rams. The central image is the theatrical poster for the film

ūüáģūüáł RAMS ūüáģūüáł

Rams aka Hr√ļtar (2015) is an award-winning Icelandic drama feature film. Available to rent on AppleTV, BFI Player, Curzon, Chilli, to buy on AppleTV, SkyStore, Chilli. 1 hr 33 min. In Icelandic with English subtitles. Cert 15 U.K.

Premise:

‚ÄúIn a remote Icelandic farming valley, two brothers who haven’t spoken in 40 years have to come together in order to save what’s dearest to them – their sheep.‚ÄĚ IMDb

Cast:

Sigur√įur Sigurj√≥nsson as Gummi
The√≥d√≥r J√ļl√≠usson as Kiddi
Charlotte B√łving as Katrin
Jon Benonysson as Runólfur
√ěorleifur Einarsson as Sindri
Gunnar Jónsson as Grimur
Jörundur Ragnarsson as Villi
Anna S√¶unn √ďlafsd√≥ttir as Sigga L√∂gga
Ingrid Jónsdóttir as Eygló
√ěorsteinn Gunnar Bjarnason as Beggi L√∂gga

Crew:

Writer: Grímur Hákonarson
Director: Grímur Hákonarson
Composer: Atli √Ėrvarsson
Cinematographer: Sturla Brandth Gr√łvlen
Editor: Kristj√°n Lo√įmfj√∂r√į

English-language theatrical poster for the film Rams. A man on the left with a great beard and long grey hair wears an Icelandic patterned cardigan. He faces a horned ram on the right.

Notes:

Rams had an Australian remake in 2020 which starred Sam Neill and Michael Caron.

Sturla Brandth Gr√łvlen is a Norwegian cinematographer who now lives in Denmark.

Atli √Ėrvarsson is an Icelandic film score composer. Atli’s credits include composing and orchestrating music for some of Hollywood’s biggest projects, including the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Angels & Demons, The Holiday, The Eagle, Thick as Thieves, The Fourth Kind, and Season of the Witch. Atli’s most recent credits The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and together with Hans Zimmer he contributed music to the Zack Snyder Superman reinstallment Man of Steel.

The sheep are credited as actors.

The film was shot with Anamorphic lenses (allowing wide screenshots) to impart the feeling of a western and was partially inspired by the 2007 film There Will Be Blood as well as the work of the Finnish filmmaker, Aki Olavi Kaurism√§ki. Sigur√įur Sigurj√≥nsson and The√≥d√≥r J√ļl√≠usson prepared for their roles by working on a sheep farm. Most of the other characters were actual farmers, as was the film’s sheep trainer.

Icelandic-language theatrical poster for the film Rams. I made shows an ATV carrying two people and a sheep dog driving along a small flock of sheep. The ground is snow-covered and there is a wire and post fence in the foreground. In the background are two houses one set far left and the other set just right if centre.

Review:

I had recorded Rams some time ago when it was on Film4 but had not got around to watching it, but a WiFi outage having scuppered my plans to watch a different film meant this was the ideal opportunity to see this Icelandic movie. I knew it was award-winning and I have very much enjoyed the Icelandic films I have watched previously so it was appealing.

My immediate reaction when the film faded to black at the end was: ‚ÄúWhy on earth have you not watched this before?‚ÄĚ What was it that evoked this reaction? Because yes, I really liked this film!

The ram competition in the film Rams

Not in any sort of ‚Äúmerit order‚ÄĚ but here are the reasons why‚Ķ

Firstly, the setting itself with all its wide-screen stunning landscapes where the farms seem so tiny compared with their fierce, stark and beautiful natural surroundings. The cinematography for these frames is stunning! Equally stunning are the scenes that are the interior scenes inside the sheds, the houses along with the ram competition etc.

Next, is the whole design of the film from the costuming to the set design. For instance the fabulous ornate green tiles in contrast to the greys, blues, browns and whites of almost everything else). The tatty Icelandic sweater worn by one of the brothers which were de rigueur for everyone else too but much less tattered and torn.

Sigur√įur Sigurj√≥nsson as Gummi in a scene from the film Rams. He sits facing left against a background of green ornate kitchen tiles.

Weaving throughout this film is a fantastic music score that is both unobtrusive and extremely effective. I loved the combination of the visuals with the music along with excellent sound design (the howling animalistic noise of the blizzard being just one example). Try to watch this with a good sound system or headphones, you will thank me for it.

Sigur√įur Sigurj√≥nsson as Gummi
The√≥d√≥r J√ļl√≠usson as Kiddi in a scene from the film Rams

The story of Rams is, on the surface, a relatively simple one and is driven by the 40-year animosity between these two men (I did not realise they were brothers until partway through the film). The rams (and sheep) that form a focus for the tragic events of this Icelandic western are a rare, endangered breed, just as the sheep farmers are themselves. It is when tragedy – in the form of scrapie – strikes that a catalyst to change, both good and bad, occurs.

It is this event and the brothers’ way of dealing with it that leads them to speak to each other again after 4 decades of silence. We never get to know why they fell out and stopped talking or having anything to do with each other, but does that matter? Not really as I doubt they would even remember why.

This is a slow burn film which at times still had me saying ‚ÄúOh no!‚ÄĚ It also has some genuinely tense moments especially those revolving around sheep not being where they should be (buried!) There are also some upsetting scenes because of what has to happen to the sheep once scrapie is confirmed.

This makes Rams sound like a film full of doom and gloom but it is not, it is also extremely funny in parts. It certainly made me laugh out loud especially a scene with a tractor and a hospital.

The weather conditions near the end of the film are horrendous and they certainly made me feel very cold, very scared and uncomfortable. If nothing else, watching Rams will give you some handy survival hints if ever caught out in ferocious blizzard conditions! These men seem to have grown directly from the weather conditions, the work and the landscape of Iceland itself. They are rough, tough survivors just like the sheep that they value so highly and which, in a way, define them as people.

Rams shows not only the harsh realities that these sheep farmers face and how precarious is their way of life but also how this also applies to the sheep. It delves into a broken relationship and shows how a disaster can act as a catalyst to the healing of that relationship. Parts are touching and poignant but it avoids exploiting the viewer in that respect. I felt at the end of 90 minutes that I knew these men and their ‚Äúit‚Äôs complicated‚ÄĚ relationship.

Will everyone like this film? Probably not, if only because it does not have a frantic pace (it is well-paced though) and is best watched (I think) if you simply relax into it. It is distinctly slow Icelandic in many respects but I am sure anyone who enjoys a good western will see the (very deliberate) similarities. That said I never once glanced at the time while watching this film. It is also up to you to decide what ultimately happens in it… I fully intend to watch Rams again.

Awards:

32 wins and 14 nominations

Wins include:
Cannes Film Festival (2015) Un Certain Regard Award ~ Grímur Hákonarson
Edda Awards, Iceland (2015) Best Film; Director of the Year ~ Gr√≠mur H√°konarson; Actor of the Year ~ Sigur√įur Sigurj√≥nsson; Supporting Actor of the Year ~ The√≥d√≥r J√ļl√≠usson; Screenplay of the Year ~ Gr√≠mur H√°konarson; Best Editing ~ Kristj√°n Lo√įmfj√∂r√į; Best Cinematography ~ Sturla Brandth Gr√łvlen; Best Costume Design ~ Margr√©t Einarsd√≥ttir, √ďl√∂f Benediktsd√≥ttir; plus Best Sound, Best Set Design
HARPA Nordic Film Composers Award (2016) ~ Atli √Ėrvarsson

Trailer:

More Icelandic Films:

https://reel2reeltalk.com/category/film/icelandic-films/

For those who are fans of Nordic/Scandi TV shows and films there is a great affiliated Facebook Page:

https://m.facebook.com/manvelovTheofficialfanpage/

This online publication also has its own Facebook Page with a wide variety of content: 

https://m.facebook.com/reel2reeltalk/

Also on Facebook is the group More Than Only Walter Presents which has its focus firmly on non-English language TV shows, films, dramas and documentaries: 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/218639287110920/edit

More TV Reviews: 

https://reel2reeltalk.com/category/tv/

More Non-Spoiler Reviews: 

https://reel2reeltalk.com/category/non-spoiler-reviews/

More Spoiler Reviews: 

https://reel2reeltalk.com/category/spoiler-reviews/

More Film Reviews: 

https://reel2reeltalk.com/category/film/

Thanks for reading this article, please feel free to comment