Rams ★★★½

"You're responsible for your brother." ~ The Lawyer

When I saw in a trailer that Icelandic writer-director Grímur Hákonarson had won Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes for this deadpan drama, I quickly put in a request at my local library to borrow a copy, and I am really glad I did. It's so easy for foreign films like this to slip by American audiences unnoticed.

This story focuses on two elderly sheep breeders, Gudmundur 'Gummi' Bodvarsson (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and his brother Kristinn aka 'Kiddi' (Theodór Júlíusson). They live alone on adjacent farms in a remote valley and, although they both manage herds from the same prize-winning Bolstadur stock and compete as rivals in local ram-raising competitions, they haven't spoken to each other in 40 years.

That relationship changes, however, when Kiddi's champion ram Sproti is diagnosed with scrapie, a virulent degenerative disease that destroys the nervous system of sheep and goats, rather like mad cow disease. Veterinary authorities determine there is no alternative but to slaughter every animal in every flock, infected or not, to destroy all hay stockpiles and disinfect every barn and holding pen in the valley. What's more, no sheep can be raised there for two years, till the danger of infection is well past.

Under these conditions, the two brothers are forced to communicate and we slowly learn of their past, which left Gummi all the family land and made Kiddi his estranged tenant. We also find how dedicated these shepherds are to maintaining the Bolstadur line, even if it means breaking the law and risking re-contamination of the entire valley by hiding pregnant ewes. In short, the men love their animals more than themselves or anyone else -- a twisted and obsessive perspective on life that's virtually impossible to reconcile without an extreme situation.

This is territory few of us are ever likely to encounter in real life, but it provides some excellent insights into the nature of brotherhood, husbandry, isolation and community. I just love cinema that broadens my world view, and if you do too, this certainly fits the bill.

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