Monday, 15 February 2016
Two men and their sheep
Now this is just perfection, and I'm worried that news about it hasn't reached a wide readership (certainly The Arts Desk didn't carry a review, which will have to wait now until DVD release). 'I bet you could identify with that,' a friend remarked ironically yesterday when I told him we'd been to see Rams (Hrútar), Grímur Hákonarson's film about two Icelandic brothers who haven't spoke to each other for 40 years and find themselves caught up in a scrapie crisis affecting both their herds. 'Well, the funny thing is that we did, totally,' I responded, going on to say that what connects us with country folk in remote north Iceland is, on this evidence, far stronger than what's different. It also reminds me of what James Rebanks writes in A Shepherd's Life about the traditional Lake District farmers' relationships with their sheep (minds out of the gutter, please).
I need no persuading about the quiet tenacity and dignity of those people who inhabit one of the weirdest, most wonderful countries in the world, not least their strong social connections: even in this isolated community, the contest for the best ram includes poetry and singing along to the accordion, as well as convivial Sunday lunches together, and there's always an accident and emergency unit in the nearby hospital (in Akuyeri?) to rescue the drunken brother who's passed out yet again in the snow when his sibling, having scooped him up in his tractor claw, dumps him right outside the entrance.
It's the sheer humanity of the film, even when it involves family feuding, which shines through at every point. Much of it is conveyed through the tragic face of Sigurður Sigurjónsson's Gummi, placed in a series of bleak but beautiful compositions - at home, in the fields, in the sheep shed, in relation to brother Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson), on the left in the poster up top.
As the plot's twists were fresh to me, I won't spoil them for others. Let's just say that so much human life is here in one Icelandic valley, with laughter and tears in close succession - as well as a dramatic moment that made me shriek, to the amusement of the few other people in the cinema - and the story is told with the mythic power that also informs comparable African gems like Yaaba, Tilai and Timbuktu, though the emotional complexity here is perhaps stronger.Still, the outlines of Rams wouldn't be out of place in one of the old Icelandic sagas. What is it? Tragicomedy? I'd prefer the term 'human comedy', since it's all plausible even at its most bizarre.
The music, mostly for accordion and organ, is well-placed and suitably austere. Of course, the daft thing is that at BAFTAs and Oscars, had it been lucky or simply noticed, this film would have been jammed in the foreign language category - what little I could bear to watch of the BAFTA winner, Wild Tales, made me want to vomit, violence without a context, so we switched off the DVD after the second 'tale' - whereas it should be there in the best film category, period; but don't get me started on the stupidity of these awards ceremonies. Rams has no kind of fault or flaw in my reckoning (J thought perhaps some of the images could have been sharper, but I wasn't sure that was a drawback). Total masterpiece, in other words. See it.