It’s too tempting to take the easy way out sometimes. Film buffs like to champion the seeking out of unique counter-programing but all too often find themselves marching off to see the exact same Hollywood product that everyone else is going to. That’s not always a terrible thing, Hollywood does make worthy product sometimes and even when they don’t it isn’t exactly the worst crime to indulge in some junk food every once in a while, but all too often people find themselves just following the heard off to some questionable movies even when it’s against their better judgement and I’m just as guilty as anyone. Case in point; this week I was strongly thinking about going to see the movie Deadpool. I wasn’t thinking that way because I really thought that was going to be a great movie, in fact I was pretty skeptical about it what with its obnoxious looking trailer and untested director. Rather, the only reason I was really planning to see it was because I knew it was making a lot of money and wanted to get in on the cultural conversation. I did stop myself, however, because I’m trying to make a concerted effort to challenge myself a little more and go off the beaten path more often, at least when distribution patterns allow. And that’s why I instead went to see an Icelandic movie about feuding brothers this week and will probably only be catching up with Deadpool when it comes out on blu-ray.
Rams is set in a small pastoral village in rural Iceland and focuses on a middle aged man named Gummi (Sigurdur Sigurjonsson) who has been living on a sheep farm in a plot next door to his brother Kiddi (Theodor Juliusson), also a sheep farmer, although the two of them haven’t been on speaking terms in years. As the film begins both are bringing in prized sheet, both descendants of the family’s strong bloodline, to a village competition where they come in first and second place. Jealous of his brother’s first place finish, Gummi inspects the winning sheep and thinks he sees signs of a livestock disease called scrapie. This poses a threat to the entire island’s herd and eventually it starts looking like the brothers are both going to have to exterminate their sheep. This is a devastating blow for both of them and soon Gummi starts making plans to take desperate measures.
On its surface Rams is a dry comedy about a couple of eccentrics bickering over unspecified issues, a sort of Grumpy Old Men but for a slightly more discerning crowd. There is, however, a little more going on here. At its base this is a movie about the power of legacy and family dynamics. Throughout the movie there seems to be very little discussion of the actual economics of sheep raising and when the herd is threatened there is very little discussion of how their slaughter will effect anyone’s bottom lines, especially in the case of the two central brothers. Rather these two men’s attitude towards their sheep are largely symbolic of the brothers’ attitudes towards one another. At the start of the film Gummi largely uses his sheep in order to compete with his brother and prove himself to be the better farmer than his sibling rival, but as the film goes on he starts to be less concerned with his own sheep and more concerned with this bloodline that he views as his family birthright and Kiddi starts to feel the same.
The humor here is really deadpan, to the point where I hesitate to even call it a comedy for fear of making people expect it to be this laugh out loud kind of thing rather than a story with a sort of dry comedic undertone. It also has a sort of homespun charm to it in the way it knowingly conveys the valley its set in and give the audience a pretty good idea of what it’s like to live there. It’s one of those movies that is a little hard to reach a final verdict on, there’s nothing I really dislike about it but its accomplishments are also kind of modest and specific. At Cannes it competed in the Un Certain Regard division and won the top prize there, and that sounds about right, it’s a movie I have a certain regard for to be sure.