By Daniel Barnes
*Opening today at the Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco.
A prime Best Foreign Language Film Oscar snub now getting dumped pre-Oscars into an Opera Plaza bandbox, Rams is still smarter and more surprising than most of the actual nominees in that category. In an isolated valley in Iceland, sheep are everything, the chief source of livelihood and identity and pride for the farming families. This is especially true for Gummi and Kiddi, long-warring brothers and next-door neighbors who haven’t spoken to each other in forty years (emergency messages are passed between Kiddi’s dog), even as their family rams produce the finest sheep in the area. After one of the brothers gets snubbed in a ram-judging competition, he examines his brother’s prize animal, making a discovery that could threaten the entire valley. The symbolism runs thick here – the brothers are just as shaggy and hard-headed as the rams they dote on – without becoming heavy-handed or cute. Hákonarson’s last film was a documentary about an Icelandic country priest, and he brings the observational eye of a documentarian to Rams while exuding the quiet confidence of a natural storyteller. He maintains a tone that’s as chilly as the Icelandic countryside, but still offers touches of that dry, dark Nordic humor, and just when the film can’t get any bleaker, he ends it on a note of almost shocking tenderness. It’s quite a ride for such a quiet ride.