Wry, melancholic and ultimately impassioned, writer/director Grímur Hákonarson's widescreen Icelandic beauty pits feuding brothers against bureaucratic intervention in their management of land and livestock to which they feel an ancestral claim -- it's the rare international shepherd drama that feels urgently connected to today's American politics. Stubborn cusses Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) have long tended their flocks and their own extravagant whiskers in the same out-of-time valley, despite having refused to speak to each other for decades. (They exchange messages via herding dog.) An outbreak of the brain disease scrapie in the sheep brings the government calling with a terrible edict: The full flocks at all the area's farms must be slaughtered. Like Gummi and Kiddi, the livestock comes from storied sheep-country lineage, meaning that what's being exterminated here isn't just one generation of animals. So the brothers each fight the ruling in their own sneaky ways, eventually coming together in a third act of elemental potency.
The leads are two of their nation's strongest actors, but technique and performance vanish behind their beards and bearing and Hákonarson's naturalistic mastery: They simply seem to be these shepherds, manhandling their beasts with practiced comfort. The photography is likewise impressive yet un-showy. Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen offers still, stunning views of men and animals, valleys and mountains, and the layered, musty interiors of farmhouses that have been inhabited for generations. But the movie doesn't linger over its artistry. Even when the feds turn up in their killing scrubs, Rams is most interested in life