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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Aging Icelandic brothers Gummi (Sigurour Sigurjonsson) and Kiddi (Theodor Juliusson) have lived next to each other, with neither speaking to the other, for 40 years. But, they have to put their differences behind them when the one thing they have in common are put in danger – their sheep – in “Rams.”

My knowledge about writer/director Grimur Hakonarson’s second feature film was: two old guys, brothers, have had a silent feud for four decades, until the one thing they both care about, their flock of ancient lineage sheep, are exposed to disease and must be slaughtered. This basic knowledge, though, does not properly speak of this multi-faceted gem of a film.

I have seen “Rams” referred to as a tragic-comedy but I do not think that term gives the film the justice it is due. The simple family story – why the brothers have not spoken in four decades is doled out sparingly – is coupled with the stark, forbidding and beautiful Icelandic landscape that is the perfect backdrop for the stunning lensing by cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen. This makes for captivating drama of loss, both physical and emotional, and redemption. There are some comical moments, but they are very dark, in keeping with the cold hues the film presents.

The actors playing the brothers are convincing in their portrayal of hard working sheep men who take pride in their flock and harbor a grudge that can only happen in a family. They are rugged men who live rugged lives with few words spoken – to others, not to each other. It is rather shocking, a ways into the film, when the first words – not kindly - are spoken between the siblings.

“Rams” feels more like a documentary about the brothers than a fiction film and I mean that in a good way. I felt that I was sharing my time with real people with a real story. I give it an A-.

In a rural Icelandic valley, the area veterinarian Katrin (Charlotte Bøving, "Everest") judges local farmers' prize sheep.  When Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson, "Jar City") is announced the winner by a mere 1/2 a point, runner up Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) is shocked. Gummi is Kiddi's neighbor AND brother and the two haven't spoken in forty years.  Gummi's jealousy will have profound reverberations in "Rams."

Writer/director Grímur Hákonarson black comi-tragedy was both the Cannes 2015 Un Certain Regard Winner and Iceland's submission for the Foreign Language Oscar and it's a winner. Steeped in a specific regional culture, you never know quite where "Rams" is headed.

After learning that Kiddi's ram won because of a stronger back muscle, Gummi examines the animal and comes to a disturbing conclusion.  He believes it has contracted scrapie, a contagious, incurable virus whose presence will condemn an entire flock to slaughter. When he shares this information with a friend whose farm is seemingly out of harm, he learns the man used Kiddi's ram for stud.  When the news reaches Katrin, official action is taken and the two brothers react very differently.  Kiddi drunkenly arrives to shoot through Gummi's windows and refuses to cooperate with officials.  Katrin is stunned to find that Gummi has taken matters into his own hands, illegally, and slaughtered all of his own sheep, the last of a famous ancestral sheep-stock.

But things are not as they seem and things escalate when the brothers are advised they will also have to thoroughly cleanse their barns, breaking down and removing pens.  An official asks for Gummi's help in getting Kiddi's cooperation and we learn more about their past.

Hákonarson's comedy is very black as he contrasts Kiddi's reckless, destructive behavior with Gummi's secretive celebrations.  But he leaves us on a haunting note, the brothers finally coming together for a fateful last stand.

Grade:  A-
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