Scott Wallace
30th Mar 2016

Last year, Rams became the first Icelandic feature to take out the Prix Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival. It is filmmaker Grímur Hákonarson's second feature, and his first to be released outside of Iceland. There is a distinct and unique sensibility to this small but engrossing film. It is thin on plot, but deliberate and purposeful in its construction, slowly and delicately building a strong and well-told story that finds a gorgeous balance between being funny and heartbreaking.

Rams stars Sigurður Sigurjónsson as Gummi, and Theodór Júlíusson as his brother Kiddi, who are neighbours and both of them sheep farmers. The two brothers, however, have not spoken in decades. Gummi finds a dead sheep on Kiddi's property, and though he doesn't realise it at first, that dead sheep is an unfortunate portent of a horrible and infectious blight that threatens the livelihood of all the sheep farmers in the isolated valley where they live.

The relationship between the two brothers is the central focus of the film. The more grounded and logical Gummi acts as a strong counterpoint to the more hot-headed and irrational Kiddi. When they are faced with the loss of their sheep, they react in opposite fashion, but it turns out their intentions are more similar than either of them imagined. There are also many comparisons made between the two brothers and their woolly wards - surely it's no accident that both have thick, bushy beards and curly hair - particularly with regard to their unbendingly stubborn nature.

This is a funny film - not in the sense that it will make you laugh out loud, but it elicits chuckles with an unusual tenderness and congeniality. That's why, when it ultimately turns tragic, it's so affecting. Rams is, at its heart, an eloquent and finely drawn character study of two men thrust into very trying circumstances. What's so remarkable is that the film achieves this without being ponderous or ham-fisted. It's an exercise in cinematic restraint, saying only what it needs to say and doing only what it needs to do.

Rams offers a look at isolated agriculturalists, a portion of the population who are not regularly featured in films, but who are relied upon by many people to provide for them. Surrounded by the vast Icelandic landscape, verdant in the summer and sheeted in white in the winter, the isolation of the farm hits home. Sturla Brandth Grøvlen's cinematography makes the most of open spaces, and even the most crowded scenes have a sense of distance and loneliness. When the film's imagery does create a sense of intimacy, it's with the rough horns and shaggy wool of the titular creatures. Coupled with Hákonarson's quiet and reserved directorial approach, as well as a lovely low-key score from Atli Örvarsson, the film creates a real emotional connection between the farmers and their beloved sheep that guides all of the story's events.

The film is an utterly unique movie experience. It's wholly accessible and completely engaging from its first moments, featuring some sublime performances and a brave and original story. Rams does not have any grand statements to make, but bubbling under its surface is a strong lesson about love, loss and learning when to let go that is very potent and very striking. We need more films with as much heart as this one.

Rams opens in limited release in Australia on Thursday April 7, exclusive to Palace Cinemas. There are special pre-release screenings at Palace on March 25-28 and April 1-3.