Family is a necessary evil, there to make sure your head still fits the door and that your eyes aren’t permanently stuck to the ground. Without family, people can drift off into an enforced solitude, turning their back on human contact, wherein animals and purposed duty sometimes fill the void.
Rams, Grímur Hákonarson’s latest film, builds upon this theme, uncovering how we can attempt to find meaning away from the familial burden. The story depicts two warring brothers whose simple farm life is disrupted, forcing them to reconnect. Hákonarson’s greatest strength is giving the story enough space to breath, the cuts are sparse, the dialogue minimal. This grants the film more time to create an interesting yet relatable family dynamic between the two brothers. Sure, they hate each other with a passion but their common goal is protecting the animals at all cost.
The film’s style is an abundance of subtleties, avoiding close ups so that we see characters from the distance they’re comfortable with, and within the emotionally muted Iceland it speaks volumes. Eschewing larger set pieces, there is only one slapstick sight gag, which is very leftfield but memorable all the same. The film’s humour is dry but infectious at times.
Unspoken masculinity that is eventually challenged defines much of the brothers conflict, they glare at each other and threads relating to favouritism and lost promise are dropped but the real reasons are left open. The open interpretation ensures that their conflict doesn’t take over the film more than their shared purpose in life. Though they barely speak, they still compete in the same competitions, have the same friends, live on the same land, they don’t escape each other either through obligation or lack of effort. Even through their conflict you get a believable chemistry from the two leads, who are bound to each other.
Not through a sense of desperation but boredom does the film’s conflict effect the two, they could give up and move on, but they don’t. This is puzzling until you realise they’re detachment from life has left them powerless to consider other options. All they have is their prized sheep and if they were to ever leave them, the two would be forced to each other for warmth in the cold of the world.
Overall the film is succinct in its message, proving jabs of humour with an honest depiction of estranged family life. It’s slow for sure, but worthy of your time, even for a family viewing.
Rams is out on Blu-Ray and DVD on May 30th.