Sunday, June 26, 2016

On Blu-ray/DVD: Iceland's Foreign Language Film submission, Grímur Hákonarson's RAMS

Though lauded with critical hosannas (95% critic-positive on Rotten Tomatoes), RAMS, the supposed "deadpan comedy" that was Iceland's entry into the BFLF Oscar race, didn't make even the Academy's shortlist this past year. It's an odd film, all right, and although he realizes that comedy, especially, is a matter of taste, TrustMovies must admit that he laughed only once during the course of the entire movie -- at a scene involving a very heavy piece of farming machinery depositing its current load at the entrance to the local hospital.

The rest of the time, TM just sat there, not uninterested, but waiting for something, anything, perhaps that other shoe, to finally drop. As written and directed by Grímur Hákonarson, shown at left, what surprised me most about Rams was how obvious the film is as to where it is going and what it will expect of its audience -- all of which is very nearly assured from the opening couple of scenes. Very quickly we learn how important sheep farming is to this little country, and also that some of said sheep are sick unto death, probably via a greatly-feared infection called "scrapie." We also meet the two brothers -- old men who've not spoken in 40 years and yet farm sheep on large plots of land immediately adjacent to each other.

This is dead serious subject matter, and as written and directed by Mr. Hákonarson it is played more seriously than humorously. And not only by the two actors who plays the brothers -- Sigurður Sigurjónsson, as Gummi, and Theodór Júlíusson as Kiddi , shown above, with Kiddi on the left -- but by all the other performers who essay townspeople, farmers, veterinarians, police and so forth.

The tone here is very dry, however, as befits deadpan, but the incidents that pile up are not particularly believable and grow less so as the movie moves along (sheep illegally hidden away in the basement, bleating their hearts out and being overheard by a newcomer who is told -- and buys this -- that the sounds are being made by cats).

On the plus side are some lovely landscapes (verdant in summer and snowy in winter), perfectly valid performances, and the very idea of sheep farming and what it means to the local community -- which is brought home quite well, whether you perceive all this as comic or no.

By the finale we've gone through the entire expected scenario -- from the deadpan/barely-existing/would-be laughs to the farcical elements to the inevitable moments expected to move us. I might have been moved, but this film has such an utterly "manufactured" quality about it that I couldn't rise to the occasion. Perhaps you will; god knows, most of our critical establishment have.

From Cohen Media Group and running a mere 93 minutes, the movie makes its Blu-ray and DVDebut this coming Tuesday, June 28 -- for purchase or rental. Better than the film, I felt, were the DVD extras, in which the filmmaker give a very short interview in which he explains that he really wanted to credit all the individual sheep because they were that good (they are!).  Also included is a choice little short film that Hákonarson made back in 2007 entitled Wrestling, which features an odd Icelandic combination of wrestling plus dance moves and involves a love story between the two major wrestlers that plays out, again, in deadpan style. It's worth seeing. 

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