Pride is a bastard of a thing.
We see people get into all sorts of difficult situations everyday and wonder why they don’t just take the easy way our…why they don’t just walk through the most convenient door and make things better pretty-darned-quick. The problem is pride – digging one’s self out of the trench they have dug so deeply and admitting that it wasn’t the right place to make a stand.
If ever there was a story about pride, it’s RAMS.
This Icelandic film is about two brothers named Gummi and Kiddi. The brothers are both sheep herders in Iceland and have somehow been passive aggressively feuding for forty years (yes, 4-0). It probably doesn’t help that their farms are right next door to one another. Proximity sadly only fuels the feud. Where most neighbours would call each other in times of need, or talk across the fence, these two men silently point at the problem while walking away, or send notes back and forth via sheepdog.
But then a crisis hits. After a county fair, Gummi thinks he sees traces of scarpies (a deadly disease) in Kiddi’s flock. When he raises the issue, an official investigation confirms the truth. While the news at first drives a deeper wedge between the brothers, it soon bonds them when pride makes them take drastic measures. And while their pride does wonders to heal their sibling rivalry, it may make the greater issue far, far worse.
I’m remiss to say that I’ve never seen a fictional Icelandic film before (suggestions, anyone?), but after popping my cherry, it appears as though they have much in common with their Scandinavian brethren from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland. Like films from those countries, the humour in RAMS is gallows, and like films from those countries, the pace is a low simmer. These are glorious things, they allow for a great deal of impact when punches are landed, such as the bitter weeping that takes place over the destruction of the flocks in the county, or the Loony Toons set-up that leads to the film’s incredible conclusion.
RAMS is a stark film – one where vast imagery is dotted by one little splash of life in the bottom left corner of the frame. It’s a striking way to tell a story, one that only underlines how powerless we are in the face of forces of nature…how it’s a great big world and we are just one tiny part of it. Seeing the world that way makes one wonder how anyone could eschew a familial bond for as long as Gummi and Kiddi do, but it’s not like their story is unique in that way.
All of these techniques pave the way for an epic conclusion to the story, one that I dare say won’t nearly play the same way from the couch as it does in a cinema. It’s sensory overload the way that cinema does so well, and it underlines that powerlessness I mentioned before in an incredible way.
For me, RAMS was a blind pick-up on my TIFF 2015 slate on the advice of a dear friend. I didn’t read word-one about it I just heard “go see it”, and I went. Sometimes it’s best to follow that route; put aside what you think you know about yourself and your taste and just trust someone.