Grímur Hákonarson’s ‘Rams’

It’s hard to know where to start with Rams. Judging by the comments about deadpan comedy in the trailer, and the soundtrack that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a Wes Anderson piece, it seemed like a comedy.

This trailer does more than most to elide the nature of the movie.

Rams is a slow, dramatic piece with occasional hints of wry comedy. But it moves slowly, and though the ending is better than you might expect from the rest of the movie, it still feels underwhelming.

One of the major challenges for the movie, fundamentally, is that it’s difficult to empathise with the protagonist. Rams tells the story of Gummi, a younger brother who’s lived next to an older brother he hasn’t spoken to for forty years. For both of them, sheep are their lives. Tragedy strikes (several scenes into the movie) when the sheep in the valley are infected with scarpie, and have to be slaughtered.

From there, Gummi has to deal with the challenge of a bureaucracy that wants to obliterate something he holds dear, and an alcoholic older brother who still resents him. It’s a challenging situation, but throughout I find myself disliking how he responds. I don’t want to use too many spoilers, but it struck me that his response was selfish, and short-sighted. If the director had picked a more sympathetic struggle, or given us something to cheer for, it might be easier to like the film.

The second challenge for the movie is the pace. For the amount of narrative that’s loosely strung across scenes, it feels as though things drag, and there isn’t enough of a narrative or artistic pay-off to justify the delay. In part, that may reflect the sense of isolation, of slow emptiness in Iceland. It still felt unsatisfying.

The conclusion of the movie was the best point; it brings together strands in a conclusion that feels a step above the rest of the film. It’s disappointing, then, that the earlier stages were so empty – so little packed in when there could have been much more.

This is worth it if you love Icelandic cinema; otherwise I’d suggest giving it a miss.

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