Director: Grímur Hákonarson
Cast: Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theodór Júlíusson and Charlotte Bøving
Running Time: 93 minutes
Release Date: February 5th
The idea that the world is held together by sheep is not a popular theory, more a stray observation offered by Werner Herzog. Uninspiring almost without question, to claim that sheep hold such power is quite audacious a statement to make, whether in fiction, or non-fiction. Besides the Father Ted episode ‘Chirpy Burpy Cheap Sheep’, Babe the Pig, and Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase, you will likely struggle to find any other stories, which take a keen interest in our dependence on the bleating creatures, as being anything other than a sign of the distance between a rural and urban environment.
However, when sheep are used as a major plot device, and in the case of the three stories referenced, the fact is that the woolly flock are seen as being the foundation upon which society is built. Like a Sergei Eisenov film, wherein the plot advances through the movement of the masses, the flock determines the movement of the world, and this notion provides the inspiration for a new Icelandic film, entitled, Rams.
Directed by Grimur Hakonarson, once again, the vitality of sheep is stressed on a Murakami level. In this story, they serve as the sole connection between two brothers, Gummi and Kiddi, who, despite being neighbours, have not spoken a word to each other in over forty years. Yet, considering their sole source of income comes from rearing sheep, when the fate of these animals are threatened by the outbreak of Scrapie, a degenerative disease, the two must put their contempt aside and endeavour to overcome a daunting obstacle together.
Shot in the harsh mountainous lands of northern Iceland, Rams is told from the perspective of Gummi, whose prized ram loses to Kiddi’s superior breed at a local pageant in the film’s opening ten minutes. Furious with the outcome, his urge to understand why Kiddi was crowned the victor ends in him uncovering a far less trivial fact. Noticing that the winning ram is showing symptoms of scrapie, and owing to its highly contagious nature, Gummi has no other choice but to inform the local authorities of his find. However, in doing so, his act forces the village’s veterinarian to order the slaughter of all sheep in the region.
The ensuing two acts bring forward scenes of extremely dark humour, slapstick and tragic in equal parts, revealing to us the dependence and passion these isolated characters have for their beloved sheep. While the relationship is humorous initially as a concept, the resultant effort to contain the disease leads to scenes of unimaginable sadness, in particular, when Gummi decides to slaughter all one hundred and forty seven of his sheep without any outside assistance.
A highly sympathetic character, his misfortune is grim enough, before we see an even greater injustice as his situation is contrasted with that of the village’s younger farmers. When they are presented with one major setback, they can still opt out and start life afresh without too great an effort. He on the other hand is left with virtually no alternative, as a major change this late in life seems nigh on impossible for him to even toy with. Here, Irish audiences will see a story all too relatable, as it draws major parallels with the 2001 outbreak of the foot and mouth disease amongst our national livestock.
Quirky on the surface, but sincere in its portrayal of a harsh reality, this is a sweet but harrowing exploration of the divide between older and younger generations. Highly cynical a ride from the outset, still amidst the misery, there is a beautiful, albeit small degree of optimism that manages to rear its head. It might not lessen the viewer’s discomfort, but certainly, it should not leave you feeling utterly hopeless as the credits begin to roll.