Starring: Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theódór Júlíusson, Charlotte Bøving
Director: Grímur Hákonarson
Running Time: 92 mins
Rams (Hrútar) is an Icelandic film about two brothers who live on neighbouring farms, but have not spoken to each other in 40 years. However, when a disease outbreak means their sheep must be slaughtered, the two are forced to work together for once.
This is an odd film. Whilst I did like Rams, and was pretty engaged from start to finish by its bleak atmosphere, I struggled to judge whether the film was being comedic, or was trying to be a proper drama. It’s an enjoyable watch overall, and did well to keep my attention despite incredibly slow pacing and a lack of dialogue, but there’s nothing to it that really struck me as either hugely entertaining or fascinating throughout.
However, let’s start on the bright side, particularly with Grímur Hákonarson’s directing. As I said, the strongest part of Rams is its bleak atmosphere, which is by far the most impressive and striking element throughout. Hákonarson brilliantly directs the lead actors’ performances to fit in with the dull countryside in which the story is set, and it really makes for an effectively atmospheric watch.
As a result, the bleakness of it all makes it feel a lot more unique than a standard drama, and as the film moves towards its final act, that part of the film becomes even more striking, making Rams finish on a high note as a successfully engaging watch.
Meanwhile, the performances are pretty good too. There may be a big lack of dialogue, but Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Theódór Júlíusson are great in the lead roles, managing to pull off relatively interesting and coherent characters whilst staying quiet and dull enough to keep that bleak atmosphere at the forefront of the film.
But despite good directing and acting, I wasn’t so impressed with Rams, largely due to its seemingly confused balance between comedy and drama. I know that the Scandinavians have a reputation for brilliantly dark and deadpan humour, and there are definitely moments where that shines through in Rams, but as those weren’t so commonplace, Rams feels a lot more like a failed black comedy than a simple drama.
As a result, I was confused at times as to whether I should be revelling in and laughing at what was a pretty surreal story about sheep, or just following along to a pretty standard dramatic story about two old men with a lifelong grudge (and sheep). If the film didn’t have any comedic moments, that wouldn’t have been such a point of frustration or ambiguity, but because it does, I just couldn’t work out what this film was trying to be, and that got on my nerves.
Overall, I did like Rams, mostly thanks to effective directing and acting to pull off a brilliantly bleak atmosphere that makes the film appear a lot more striking than any part of its story, but that confused balance between comedy and drama was a major sticking point that meant I couldn’t get so wrapped up in the film, and that’s why Rams gets a 7.2 from me.