Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

13 July 2016

Rams (Hrútar)

Icelandic poster
Last year, for the Academy's Best Foreign Language Picture award, Ethiopia submitted Yared Zeleke's Lamb, a lovely film that I reviewed here, and Slovakia submitted Ivan Ostrochovský's Goat, which as far as I can tell doesn't have a distributor in the U.S., and Iceland submitted Rams, which just recently made its way to DVD. It was a serious year for livestock.

You might think Rams is about sheep, since it is a film about two farmers who live next door to one another and both raise sheep from a specific breed. But the title refers to the farmers themselves, who are hardheaded brothers who haven't spoken a word to one another in forty years. If they are forced to communicate in some way, they write notes to one another and then have a dog carry them to the recipient. They barely acknowledge one another's existences, and when they do it is decidedly unfriendly.

American poster
You might also imagine that this means that Rams is a whimsical film about two brothers, like, learning to love one another again or banding together to fight off a threat from the outside or something like that. (And who would blame you when looking at this American poster, which asks viewers to "get sheepish" and features Siggi Sigurjóns staring at a taxidermied ram?) This is what I thought, too. Rams is also only about 90 minutes long – comedy length – and these brothers communicate via carrier puppy. But Rams is not a whimsical movie. It's a sensitive film about people living in very difficult circumstances. The feud is a serious one, and the stakes are high.

I really liked this picture. It is funny when it wants to be but also truly devastating at times. Rams is photographed beautifully and unpretentiously by Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, and its central performance, by the comedic actor and writer Sigurður Sigurjónsson, who (I'm not making this up) is the Icelandic voice of SpongeBob Squarepants, is excellent.