Like another quiet, slowly-placed arthouse film featuring goats, 2011’s Le Quattro Volte, Grimur Hakonarson’s Rams, the Un Certain Regard winner at Cannes last year, is hard to describe in a way that doesn’t sound either hugely off-putting or unbearably pretentious. To do so would be a great disservice. Crucially we’re in the Icelandic valleys, not Italy (a significant difference from Le Quattro Volte), and the film centres on two magnificently-bearded, ageing and, unmarried brothers, Kristinn and Gumundur Bodvarrsson, who haven’t spoken in decades. They reunite in order to save their rams Gummi and Kiddi, surprisingly considering they are known to avoid each other despite living next door, and publicly loathe one another.
Partly inspired by a true story from one Hakonarson’s favourite books, ‘Independent People’ by Halldor Laxness (‘this story of a stubborn sheep farmer who wants to be an independent farmer, he doesn’t want help from the people, and sacrifices himself for the sheep’, Interview with FlickeringMyth), it also offers some of the mordant, deadpan dialogue reminiscent of The Coen Brothers, another Hakonarson credit. It is in many ways a meditation on the symbiosis between shepherd and his his flock – ‘sheep are woven into our farmers’ work and being’, someone utters early on. Sheep are revered in the community, credited with helping locals to survive through ‘ice and fire’. The icy vistas are definitely plentiful here, with most of the embers smouldering between the cragged visages of two differing performers. The last ten minutes offer a marked surprise from the darkly comic reunion in saving their existences, to a transcendent payoff of filial bonding. Watch this with your feuding sibling.