More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)
Of course, though there are sheep in the film, those are not the rams – but no one, even without having seen the film-poster, need feel complacent for that realization…
Film references :
* Addicted to Sheep (2015) [interview with director Magali Pettier]
* Burden of Dreams (1982)
* Fitzcarraldo (1982)
* Iona (2015)
* It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
* Kosmos (2010)
* Life in a Fish-Bowl (2014)
* Nebraska (2013)
* Rear Window (1954)
* The Field (1990)
However, there are some puzzles in the film – asking ourselves, as we try to be intelligent observers, Why is he doing that ? [meaning, usually, Gummi¹], and intractably getting no answer in at least one case – and they require our patience. There must also be half-a-dozen times when, through things such as reflections, our attention is drawn to the fact that Gummi is looking at the world through a window : in one shot, we almost have more streaks of light featuring across the image than the image itself, and at a moment when we are really watching Gummi watching (or the character playing him, pretending not to expect what he sees), and not just first being shown him at the window, then what we know that he is seeing.
They are still there, but writer / director Grímur Hákonarson does not overdo it with beautiful views of Iceland, and there are two sorts of shots that he has cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen distinctively employ : external long-shots with a static camera-position, allowing us to take in what we see, and which may include an element of movement to which we can give our attention (not least if we are asking ourselves the question Why are we being shown this ?), and internal medium shots, again static, that let us take in Gummi, sitting, or with someone else, where there is a landscape painting above him, but what the window is framing is at least as worth looking at (a point of connection with the previous paragraph).
Those who invite us to see this film on the basis that it is 'deadpan comedy', executed extremely well, seem to see that as sufficient reason in itself, but no film is under an obligation ‘to be about’ what it appears to be about – and this one does not even seem to be about the sheep (even if there is enthusiasm akin to that of Tom and Kay Hutchinson in Addicted to Sheep (2015), and the passion and love for, and for breeding, the prize-winning favourites). When Gummi delivers Kiddi to the hospital, we might stop to consider where the humour comes from (even if it may elicit an amazed snort, rather than a belly-laugh - though there were pockets, in the screening, of those fervent to derive much amusement from their viewing) :
In constructing the scene, Hákonarson first of all effects a misdirection (which derives from the manner of the delivery, and in relation to an earlier scene²), and it has already been noted how, as a quiet way of subverting our perception, he has us react to what we expect, e.g. early on, when Gummi does not receive first prize, and what he is then about outside (a moment whose implication drives the whole story on, but which looks like sabotage).
By the time of this part of the film, Hákonarson has already set up a polarity, where our time is very clearly with Gummi (as well as our sympathies), not Kiddi, and what works here is the incongruity between action and the duty that informs it³. (A little, as it turns out, with Tom and Jerry, we may be worried about Kiddi, taken to and left in the surprised care of those who have half a mind that their attention should be on the unknown driver, but Kiddi soon turns out to bounce back (as those characters do), in a way that belies our fears.)
We need to spot, but only to set aside, the patent theme of obsession, for this is not the desire-at-all-costs of Richard Harris (as ‘Bull’ McCabe) in The Field (1990) (or of Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982), though, at times in Burden of Dreams (1982), we might ask whose mad obsession the film is about), despite arising from the issue of ‘the last of the Bolstadur stock’.
Artfully, then (and with the wise investment in using no fewer than four translators to care for its foreign-language viewers), the film is a lot more to do with an obsession that actually speaks and treats of notions of identity and personhood (as in Nebraska (2013)), which is exposed, on one level, when the government official / lawyer tells Gummi You’re the one who’s responsible. If we mentally stay with its arc (and never quite credit, per se, this conceit of deadpan comedy, any more than we can / should with Lars and The Real Girl (2007)), Rams has laid foundations⁴ so that, led by Atli Örvarsson’s score, we build in the last ten or so minutes to what is actually the heart of the film, with excellent sound-design, visual-effects and situation.
Right at this moment, where we may misdirect ourselves as to what is taking place, we might just puzzle a bit about what happens after the black-out at the end (and leave, saying so loudly, and what a good film it was)... Or we might consider what, in us, has made us doubt what we see, both in this film, and in the world outside : what challenge, in other words, the film might mean for our lives, when we construct realities of the world, and of - and for - people who are in it, both those whom we write off, and those whom we credit.
And, for those who also stay for the credits, there is a chance to reflect on how the theme for piano sounds now, when reprised, and to note that Örvarsson played it, as well as the organ and accordion, with the session musicians.
¹ It is only a diminutive nick-name (as is Kiddi), but, if we did not note the full name in the film, IMDb (@IMDb) does not know, and cannot tell us after the event…
² As well as by the look of some of the shots (characterized above), one is reminded of the powerful close of Kreuzweg (Stations of the Cross) (2014), but also of the brothers, driving around in Kosmos (2010).
³ Contains spoilers * Not unrelatedly, it is as if Gummi is feeling required to kill the fatted calf, but his heart is elsewhere – and by no means rejoicing – when he does it (a little as with George Bailey, and his life ?), and from this way in which Hákonarson has Gummi (hardly for the first time that we know of) care for Kiddi, but without according him any more dignity than a bag of potatoes. A treatment grotesquely exploited, at length, by John Cleese and Connie Booth with ‘The Kipper and The Corpse’ in Fawlty Towers.
At times, the film reaches beyond itself to accounts of Isaac and Esau, or even Cain and Abel, to name but two :https://t.co/m0anVDln38— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) February 17, 2016
There's certainly 'mere oppugnancy' (Troilus I.iii) in Rams (2015), yet is It's a Wonderful Life (1946) closer ? :https://t.co/m0anVDln38— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) February 12, 2016
⁴ In a way that Iona (2015), set on the island of that name, just fails to, wishing to seem genuinely portentous (as if it had the emotional pull of Greek tragedy ?), but only being bogus and hollow. (In a similar way (though less unsuccessfully), Icelandic film Life in a Fish-Bowl (2014) wants to nestle big themes, such as those of the Icelandic banks, amongst domesticity, as if it were another Chinatown (1974)...)
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Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)