Telluride 2015 Review: ‘Rams’ Is a Headbutt to the Gut

Rams really could have been about anything. The heart of the story is two brothers in the same business and how that business divides them. But they say “write what you know” and in Iceland they know sheep, so Rams is about two sheepherders. 

Kiddi (Theodor Juliusson) and Gummi (Sigurour Sigurjonsson) have neighboring farms and a competitive spirit, then Kiddi wins a sheep competition by half a point. When Gummi discovers a disease in Kiddi’s stock, reporting it means slaughtering all the herds in town to prevent it spreading. 

This is an emotionally fraught decision, because it’s not just dumping inanimate stock. Any pet owner can appreciate the attachment we have to a living thing. Imagine having to say goodbye to a whole herd. Some of their battle has a lighter side, as one particular joke involving a bulldozer almost plays like a comedy set piece. 

Since Gummi and Kiddi have different responses to the situation, it creates intrigue as health officials ask Gummi to help them connect with Kiddi, who is stonewalling. The intrigue is all pertaining to care and maintenance of sheep pens, but it’s emotional and familial. By the surprising climax, we are really into the sheep drama. 

To further emphasize how close these two brothers are, you can barely tell Kiddi and Gummi apart by their beards. Kiddi’s is all white and Gummi’s is rounder. The performances distinguish them as two men with valid points of view, and with hearts they probably don’t get a chance to show when the situation isn’t this intense.

Rams won Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival, and deservedly so. It’s a foreign film that invites us into a tight-knit world and makes it universally accessible. If you think you might not like an Icelandic sheep herder movie, Rams might make you a convert. 

Photo © Sturla Brandth Grøvlen

Fred Topel is a veteran journalist since 1999 and has written for CraveOnline since 2006. See Fred on the ground at Sundance, SXSW, Telluride or in Los Angeles and follow him on Twitter @FredTopel, Instagram @Ftopel.