I feel a bit cheated by the marketing for Rams. Billed as a comedy, I didn’t find myself laughing a whole lot at this tale of two feuding brothers. I’ve noted before that comedy can be quite difficult to translate across language and culture, so perhaps I just don’t have a firm grasp on Icelandic comedy or didn’t find the subtitled delivery as nuanced as I should have, but this was never a film that made me laugh. However, as a drama, Rams works quite well and serves as a reminder that Iceland can produce some touching cinema.
The two aforementioned brothers are Gummi and Kiddi, sheepherders who haven’t spoken to one another in forty years, yet live on adjacent properties and deign to only ever communicate via written messages carried between them in the mouth of a dog. An outbreak of scrapie is discovered in Kiddi’s herd, so by government edict all the sheep in the area much be exterminated to prevent infection from spreading, leaving the farmers without a means of production or income. Gummi keeps some of his sheep and a single ram hidden in his basement, yet things get complicated when a drunken Kiddi stumbles across them one evening.
The double entendre of the title is where most of the dramatic tension comes from, and as a character piece there’s quite a bit of meat to this film. Gummi and Kiddi are characters defined by an ill-defined feud, the origin of which doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that their lives have evolved based on a resistance toward reacquainting. Circumstance ultimately forces them to communicate once more, and the result is trying as it is touching, a poignant reflection on the bonds of family and the pettiness of old grievances. The final shot alone is enough to make the preceding ninety minutes worth it, even if the pacing of those minutes can be slow at times.
But I once again have to come back to the fact that I can’t wrap my head around how this is supposed to be a comedy. There are a few physical gags that I suppose would be funny in theory, yet I didn’t think the timing worked to encourage laughter. There are moments of supposed shock comedy where we see our aged leads in the nude, but again, I don’t see why that on its own is apparently funny. I have read other reviews that call this film riotous, yet the human drama at play is much more engaging and much more consistently on point that any attempts at slapstick. In fact, if any of the comedy actually registered as such, I’d be tempted to call it inappropriate, given the gravity of the situation to the characters and the somber tone inherent in a premise where livelihoods are on the line.
So yeah, maybe I’m not tuned to this film’s comedic wavelength, but that doesn’t mean I think it doesn’t work as a good film. It’s a touching piece of relationship drama that revolves around a couple of humanly flawed characters. I just wish I were in on the joke.