The other day the first Mrs Thompson and I took the number 93 bus to Iceland. To be more precise to the HMV Curzon in Wimbledon where we watched the absolutely brilliant Icelandic saga Rams. Now this is not Reykjavik , home of bankers, Bjorn, discos and mini Stockholm, this is the North. Not many people, quite a few sheep, snow ,cold, and damn good sweaters. In fact trying to give it a UK equivalent its low blank hillsides, inbred people, its sheep. it feels like mid Wales.
That is mid Wales (where they hid Rushdie) with even less people and those chunky hand knitted sweaters which we all used to get for Xmas but now don’t, as nobody can knit and anyway we have central heating.
The film ends with the two brothers who haven’t talked for forty years trapped in a snow hole, both naked ,one probably dead, both peasant farmers with the misshapen bodies which go with that trade and approaching old age. Oh and I forgot. They are all have beards which would make Allah weep. In fact while in modern films you can tell the bad guys because they smoke in this movie you know the bad guys (who work for the government) because they shave. The story revolves around the animosity and rivalry of the brothers which is left perfectly unexplained and the discovery of a foot and mouth type sheep disease which means all the sheep(the life ) in the valley have to be destroyed.
The scenery,the plot, the music, the social and natural environments, the lack of dialogue and man’s love for his sheep are all played to perfection. I hope Icelanders world wide boycotted the Oscars since this film made Revenant look like an even bigger joke than it was. Yet Rams wasn’t even nominated in the foreign film category.(A pc film about honour killing in Pakistan won)
The strong simplicity of the brothers and of the whole community reminded me of my favourite poet R.S Thomas’ poem The Stones of the Field.
“There is something frightening in the vacancy of his mind. His clothes, sour with years of sweat And animal contact, shock the refined , But affected, sense with their stark naturalness. Yet this is your prototype, who season by season Against the siege of rain and wind’s attrition, Preserves his stock, an impregnable fortress Not to be stormed even in death’s confusion”
RS Thomas didn’t have to see a film to see these lonely, wind shaped, crags of men, he was their vicar for forty years in North Wales.
Sibling breakdown is not confined to brothers in the North of Iceland. I have given up talking to one of my sisters, Vivien’s brother has not spoken to his sisters for twenty years except for a few brief, derisory words at their father’s funeral twelve years ago. Among our friends I know of only a very few who have a true affection for their siblings. Most manage their rivalry and distaste by keeping contact to a minimum. The Icelandic brothers farmed adjoining land.