“Rams” starts with a baa and ends with a blizzard that seems to have blown in from Norse mythology. In between, there’s enough sheep farming and sibling rivalry to qualify the movie as a Biblical saga.
Written and directed by Grimur Hakonarson (“Summerland”), this Icelandic dramedy is droll and truthful.
It begins as a Nordic quirky-village taly in which the only head-butting is the work of long-feuding humans.
In a farming valley in Iceland, Gummi (Sigurour Sigurjonsson) and Kiddi (Theodor Juliusson) are 60ish brothers who live in adjacent houses but haven’t spoken to each other for 40 years. (They communicate through letters delivered by a courier dog.)
Each man breeds sheep from the same ancient, prize-winning lineage and derives immense pride from his animals.
At the annual best-ram contest, Kiddi’s ram beats Gummi’s for first place. Irate, Gummi stealthily inspects Kiddi’s animal. He determines, correctly, that it is infected with scrapie, a deadly neurodegenerative disease. Soon, authorities order the slaughter of all area sheep — a devastating sentence for the farmers.
Kiddi gets drunk and shoots his rifle at Gummi’s window. Gummi, the more civil and intellectual brother, concocts a scheme to thwart the slaughter.
When authorities close in, the brothers must dump their grudges and join forces to save their livelihood and purpose.
Then the story becomes a thriller and a journey through striking terrain and ruthless weather toward a dramatic climax.
Even though it widens and deepens, the movie has too small a scale to be a knockout, and Hakonarson doesn’t always shift tones in ways conducive to credibility.
Still, it’s a unique indie charmer that’s funny, sad and moving.
The world of Icelandic sheep farming comes to life with impressive detail by Hakonarson, who has made documentaries.
As a dry comedy, the film is consistently amusing (even repeated sight gags with Gummi naked in the bathroom don’t wear thin) and sometimes stellar (a bit involving a tractor and a drunken brother is especially memorable).
There also are equally valuable quiet moments. In one scene, Gummi, his world crumbling, puts on a jacket, cooks an elegant Christmas meal and dines alone.
At climax time, Hakonarson aims for something primal as he addresses sibling rivalry, human need, basic survival, and not insignificantly, the companionship of sheep. He almost pulls it off.
The actors, both well known in Iceland, are completely credible as stubborn, lonely farm kin who talk to their animals.
The sheep — Hakonarson has said he conducted an area-wide talent search — aren’t bad, either.
Starring: Sigurour Sigurjonsson, Theodor Juliusson
Written and directed by: Grimur Hakonarson
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes