Still of Rams (2015)
Rams/Hrútar [2015] is an Icelandic drama film directed by Grímur Hákonarson. Hákonarson was primarily a documentary filmmaker before Rams — this is his second feature film. Rams tells a tale about a pair of estranged and rivaling siblings in rural Iceland, each tending to his own sheep farm. When their prized sheep come down with scrapie, a neurodegenerative disease without a cure, these siblings find their lives upended as they must deal with this unwelcome change to their way of life.

I’m a family man myself. Rams is a quietly captivating and poignant tale about family, tradition, and Icelandic enthusiasm for sheep. Clocking in at only 93 minutes, Hákonarson manages to weave a tale that examines some hefty subjects — some more esoteric than others (like Icelandic sheep fervor). Though the setting is foreign, the ideas are not: familial tension is relatable to all. And though the synopsis may sound sleepy; and the town may be sleepy, and even the sheep are a little sleepy; this film itself is anything but that.

A priest, a rabbi, and an Icelandic sheep walk into a bar. This film is dryly comical as only tales dealing with strained familial relationships and stubborn humans can portray. Our severe protagonist, Gummi, and his lively brother, Kiddi, have not spoken in decades. Where communication is necessary, they have assigned Kiddi’s dog the responsibility of delivering handwritten messages; which, in case you were wondering, is pretty much the 18th-century equivalency of the action as silly as texting someone who is sitting right beside you. As most of us know, sibling rivalry knows no bounds and this is ripe ground for some good humor. We treat the ones we love the roughest because we know that, at the end of the day, they will always love us; and in that, Rams will show you sibling roughhousing that will give you a good belly laugh.

I can show you the world: shining, shimmering, splendid. When watching Rams, it is not difficult to recognize that part of its hold on us is the striking cinematography that allows us to take in the austere beauty of Iceland. In one frame, tall billowy grasses obscure our protagonist Gummi as he wanders meditatively through his fields. In another, we’ll see an extreme long shot establishing just how much empty solitary space surrounds our siblings. Every frame becomes a feast for the eyes; and, if you believe that cinema can take us to places we’ve never been to before, this film accomplishes that in strides.

One must imagine Sisyphus happy. Perhaps one of my favorite aspects about Rams is that it offers a thought-provoking exploration of the absurdity of humans and the arbitrary things we care about. Gummi and Kiddi may be on the rocks with each other, but if there’s anything that they do have in common — other than DNA — is that they are both deeply passionate (to the point of absurdity) about their sheep. To a viewer, this may seem preposterous, but isn’t passion itself a little preposterous? Why do people risk their lives to drive in aerodynamic cars at breakneck speeds? Why do others insist on putting all their bodily mass on their toes as they move rhythmically about to music? Why do yet others ask people to play dress-up so that they can record it with a camera? The things we care about simultaneously matter and don’t; and Rams doesn’t let us forget how stupid we are by being right there with us in our very human stupidity.

Die-hard sheep farmers muck about in Iceland as prions drive their sheep insane. ​
Best 93 minutes on a sheep farm that you’ll ever spend.