You could probably make a claim for there being two types of people in the world, those who are interested in an Icelandic sheep farming comedy and those who aren’t. If you fall into the first category then the arrival of Rams most seem like blessed relief, as most years the genre is criminally underserved. Iceland’s submission to the 88th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Picture is on paper an unusual proposition, but to dismiss it is to miss out on a smart and dry piece of humour.
The film focuses on two brothers, Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson), who despite both being sheep farmers, could not be more different. They haven’t spoken in forty years despite living as next door neighbours and it is a feud that looks unlikely to end soon. That is until a case of scrapie is discovered in the valley that they call their home, leading to them having to slaughter their sheep and find a new way to live their lives.
That synopsis could work for both this film and a very different one, a darker tale following the loss of livelihood for a whole area. Fortunately, at least if you are looking for something not quite so depressing, Rams is nothing of the sort. While it doesn’t hide from the economic realities of the situation, it is also so dry in humour that there are times where your laughter will come five to ten seconds after the initial joke as it slowly worms into your head.
Central to that laughter is the relationship between the two brothers and, in turn, their relationship to their sheep. These sheep aren’t common farmyard animals; they are loved and cared for and treated with a level of devotion that most people would reserve for a family pet. When the slaughter comes around it is genuinely devastating and you find yourself rooting for these farmers and their hairbrained attempts to preserve their way of life. That is in between laughing at their attempts to live in something approaching a mutual agreement.
Of course, it is not going to be for everyone. Rams is not a laugh a minute comedy but instead a slow burner. It builds to its funniest moments and is also quite happy to just sit and watch while Kiddi has his breakfast or eats a bowl of soup. It is as strange as the premise suggests it could be. Yet, if you are willing to give it a chance, it verges on being one of the funnier films I have this year. At times it slips into farce as these two competent but ultimately rather hapless brothers try and pick up the shards of their lives. If you’d ask me at the start of the year whether I’d be one of the people interested in the Icelandic sheep farming comedy I’d have said no, but it turns out, I would have been very wrong.