The US release date of Rams has finally arrived, and select cinemas begin screening the highly-anticipated, critically-acclaimed, award-winning Icelandic film today.
Rams (Hrútar), a film by Grímur Hákonarson, was an official selection at the 2015 Telluride and Toronto International Film Festivals, and had its world premiere at the 2015 Cannes International Film Festival, where it won the prestigious Un Certain Regard Award.
Seventeen awards later, including Best Feature Film at the Denver International Film Festival, Best Narrative Film at the Hamptons International Film Festival, and the Golden Eye Award for Best International Feature Film at the Zurich International Film Festival, Rams is finally opening in theatres in the United States.
The dark-humored drama centers on brothers Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson, City State) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson, Jar City), who live side by side and tend to their sheep in a secluded valley in Iceland. Their ancestral sheep-stock is considered one of the country’s finest, and Gummi and Kiddi are awarded for their prized rams time and again. However, the land and their way of life are the only things the brothers share; Gummi and Kiddi have not spoken to each other in forty years.
After a lethal disease suddenly infects Kiddi’s sheep, he, Gummi, and the entire valley come under threat, as the authorities decide to cull all the animals in the area to contain the outbreak. For the farmers, whose sheep are their main source of income, this spells a near death sentence. Many end up abandoning their land, but Gummi and Kiddi don’t give up so easily. Rather, each brother tries to forestall the disaster in his own fashion: Kiddi with his rifle and Gummi with his wits. As the authorities close in, the brothers will need to join forces to save their special breed of rams — passed down for generations — as well as themselves and their livelihood, from extinction.
This inspiration for Rams came from the life of the film’s writer and director, the multiple award-winning Icelandic director Grímur Hákonarson (Slavek the Shit, Bræðrabylta).
“My film is based in large part on my own experiences with rural people and rural culture in Iceland. Both of my parents were raised in the countryside and I was sent there to live and work most summers until I reached the age of 17. Because of this background, I think I have a certain sense for the stories, characters, and visual language of these rural parts of Iceland. I’ve always been attracted to stories from the countryside and Rams isn’t the first film I’ve shot in this environment.
“In the north of Iceland, as in other rural parts of the island, sheep farming was a central part of people’s livelihood as well as their culture, all the way up until the last years of the 20th century. So in a way the Icelandic sheep was and still is holy to a lot of people: it represents pride and the ‘old way,’ the way people used to be. Sheep have played a pivotal role in rural survival here over the centuries, and they are deeply rooted to this land and closely connected to the Icelandic spirit. Our country was built on fishing and farming and in Búðardalur, where we shot Rams, sheep farming is still the main employment.”
“But beyond farming, there is something special about sheep, and most farmers I know have a stronger connection to sheep than to other domesticated animals. Farmers who run a mixed farm – raising cows, sheep, and horses – are usually most interested in the sheep. The cows might put bread on the table but the farmer’s main ‘hobby’ and passion is usually their sheep. Somehow the relationship between man and sheep has always been particularly close, and I found that phenomenon interesting and intriguing.
“This is the world I wanted to depict in the film. People who live alone with their sheep, in nature, and develop very strong emotional connections with their animals. This is something that’s becoming very rare in modern society, and people like my main characters Gummi and Kiddi are dying out. I think that’s a shame. I like eccentricity and peculiarity to a certain point, and I would like that to live on, even in modern society.”
Regarding the darkly-comical conflict between Gummi and Kiddi, Hákonarson drew from his personal experiences of knowing “stubborn and autonomous” Icelanders who lived side by side, then fell out and didn’t speak a word to each other for decades afterward.
Hákonarson’s father, formerly of Iceland’s Ministry of Agriculture, offered insight into the government’s administration of farming and its decisions about slaughtering or leaving be certain livestock in the event of a disease outbreak.
And the infection of his friends’ and niece’s sheep stock added the emotional punch and thriller elements in the story of Gummi and Kiddi — two people who try to save from destruction what’s most important to them, a situation that is relatable well beyond Iceland’s borders.
Made by Icelandic production company Netop Films EHF and co-production company Profile Pictures, in association with Film Farms and Aeroplan Film, Rams is produced by Grímar Jónsson and co-produced by Jacob Jarek and Ditte Milsted.
The R-rated film (run time 93 minutes) costars Charlotte Bøving (Everest), Jon Benonysson, Guðrún Sigurbjörnsdóttir, Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson (Jar City), Jörundur Ragnarsson (World’s End), and Þorleifur Einarsson.
Rams opens today at select cinemas in New York City. It opens the 5th of February in Los Angeles, followed by theatres in San Francisco, CA, Coral Gables, FL, Santa Fe, NM, Royal Oak, MI, Minneapolis, MN, Seattle, WA, Boise, ID, Tucson, AZ, Hartford, CT, Albuquerque, NM, Grand Rapids, MI, and Tallahassee, FL, later in February.