Warring sheep farmers in Iceland: a deadpan comedy gem by Richard Jones

rams

WHO would have considered that a story about warring sheep farming brothers set in rural Iceland would be such a heart-warming affair?

Well Rams proved to be just that for me and it’s close to the best film I’ve seen at the walk-ins all year.

It’s set in a bare, windy valley in rural Iceland and you could almost feel the bone-chilling cold sweeping off the cinema screen.

The two brothers who haven’t spoken to each other in 40 years – or so it’s alleged by neighbours and townsfolk – are Gummi and Kiddi.

They’re busy year-round looking after their prized flocks which have survived down the decades from the late 19th century with no pedigree contamination.

They way they communicate is fascinating. Somi who is Kiddi’s prized collie dog trots between the neighbouring farmhouses carrying hand-written notes between his teeth.

Kiddi (Theodor Juliusson) is a boozer and something of a brawler. Younger brother Gummi (Sigurour Sigurjonson) is a gentler soul and perhaps not as popular at community get-togethers as Kiddi.

We see the antagonism between the pair right at the start when Kiddi’s ram is adjudged the best at the annual sheep show. Gummi’s ram runs second, albeit by just a decimal place.

There’s ‘no speakies’, of course, between the brothers although a couple of district farmers act as message couriers to and fro. Along with the dog-delivered notes.

Not long afterwards the whole sheep-farming world is up ended. State veterinarians inform the farmers via personal visits and phone calls that an infection which is known as ‘scrapie’ in their dialect is sweeping across the countryside.

Gummi had feared the worst. One afternoon he’d come across a dead ewe over a fence on Kiddi’s farm.

So how will the brothers cope? A few valleys away the farmers seem to have escaped the dreaded infection.

But Kiddi and Gummi and others in their windswept valley are told all the sheep will have to be slaughtered, their carcases and hay stocks burnt and buried and all the barns meticulously cleaned and disinfected.

Even though during this trauma Gummi had delivered his comatose, drunken brother to the little town’s hospital on the scoop of a front-end loader.

This is just one deadpan comedy scene gem. There’s others scattered throughout the film.

Once Kiddi has recovered, it seems it’s now time for them to behave like proper siblings and stave off disaster.

Gummi uses his wits. He picks a handful of ewes and his prize ram and hides them in the cellar of his house.

Kiddi has to be taken away in a police vehicle just before the slaughter of his flock begins. The veterinarians aren’t convinced Gummi has fulfilled his side of the ultimatum especially when one male vet, seated on Gummi’s inside loo, hears some baa-ing below him.

Another comedic gem.

So as winter closes in and the Arctic winds howl and screech around the farmhouses and barns perhaps it’s time for the two men to set aside a lifetime of hostility and save the remnant of their special breed.

Rams won a special prize at the 2015 Cannes International Film Festival and was Iceland’s entry in this years Best Foreign Language movie category at the Academy Awards.

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