Thursday, March 3, 2016

Feuding brothers and their sheep

Director Grimur Hakonarson's Rams is, by any definition, a small movie. But that doesn't mean, it's not a resonant one. In Rams, Hakonarson, a documentarian by trade, tells the story of two feuding brothers who tend sheep in an isolated part of Iceland. Bearded and as shaggy looking (perhaps more so) than the sheep they tend, the brothers (Theodor Juliusson) and Sigurour Sigurjonsson) constantly are competing over who has the best groomed sheep. It's impossible to watch a movie this spare in tone without thinking of the bible; i.e., Cain and Abel reflections seem entirely appropriate. The story kicks in when a plague hits the area; sheep are inflicted with scrapie, a fatal sheep disease that means entire flocks must be put down. Brother Gummy (Sigurjonsson) kills his sheep, but Kiddi (Juliusson) resists, ultimately hiding several of his most treasured animals in his basement. Although Hakonarson doesn't resist comic impulses, his movie can't help but turn serious and its ending manages a neat trick; it's both affirming and chastening. Again, small doesn't mean unimpressive: Rams serves up a haunting blend of rural realism, cultural eccentricity and near-mythic poetry.

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