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Rams Review

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Despite living a few yards apart in a remote Icelandic valley, brothers Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theódór Júlíusson) have barely spoken for 40 years. But they are forced to co-operate when the incurably contagious disease scrapie decimates their flocks and threatens the existence of their community.

★★★★

Despite living a few yards apart in a remote Icelandic valley, brothers Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theódór Júlíusson) have barely spoken for 40 years. But they are forced to co-operate when the incurably contagious disease scrapie decimates their flocks and threatens the existence of their community.

Initially, it feels like Aki Kaurismäki-meets-Ealing comedy but the mood turns darker.

Icelandic cinema may not be prolific, but it rarely disappoints, and admirers of Benedikt Erlingsson's Of Horses And Men (2013) will relish this engaging saga. Initially, it appears as though Aki Kaurismäki has become a devotee of Ealing comedy, as sheep farmer Theódór Júlíusson and his temperamental brother, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, communicate through scribbled notes carried by a sheepdog and the odd warning gunshot. But, once the degenerative disease scrapie is discovered in their weather-battered valley, the mood turns darker, as Sigurjónsson hits the bottle (and repeatedly has to be rescued from snowy stupors) and Júlíusson defies the vet by hiding some of his flock in the basement.

Making only his second fictional feature, Grímur Hákonarson draws on his documentary experience to combine with cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen in capturing the look and feel of a beleaguered community whose hardy souls have lost the will to battle the odds and the elements. But there is nothing melodramatic about the way in which the siblings are forced to end their feud in order to protect what little remains of their hardscrabble but cherished lifestyle. Whether reeling from the result of a breeding competition, hugging a prized ram or scooping up his sozzled brother in his tractor and dumping outside the local hospital, the whiskery and woolly jumpered Júlíusson remains eminently empathetic. But the dyspeptic Sigurjónsson also exudes a stubborn pride in an ancient way of life that not only makes his naked outburst as affecting as the sight of the sheepfold after the cull, but also ensures that the ending is truly heart-rending.

Switching from dour humour to humanist drama without seeming contrived, this is a masterclass in combining character and landscape that is played with deceptive poignancy by the excellent leads.

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