Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Assur is adept at creating striking images - such as the shadows of the ravens of the title on a barn wall or the threat of violence posed by a piece of machinery."

There's been a lot of emotional trouble brewing down on the farm lately, from Hope Dickson Leach's Scots BAFTA-nominated The Levelling to God's Own Country, the life is portrayed as tough - and the men who dominate the environment often mentally strung out.

Joining their number is Ravens, a bleak slice of Swedish life about the family of a struggling tenant farmer, based on the novel by Tomas Bannerhed. The austerity and hardship of existence for dad Agne (Reine Brynolfsson) and his teenage son Klas (Jacob Nordström) is emphasised by the sort of opening that might appeal to Bela Tarr - dialogue-free observance that highlights the isolation both of the setting and of the characters from one another. The Seventies backdrop further underlines the muddy tones, with everyone and everything arriving in endless shades of beige and brown.

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The story is also spartan, less about the offer from developers to exploit a patch of woodland on Agne's farm's fringes or the potential romance offered to Klas by a girl from Stockholm, than about the emotional landscape of the family, as filled with rocks as one of Agne's fields. Agne is a man on the edge, pouring almost every ounce of energy into his farm, he has an expectation that Klas will follow in his footsteps although when he suggests that everything will soon be his son's, it sounds as much like a curse as a promise.

In between the two men is Agne's wife Gärd (Maria Heiskanen), trying to do her best to spread some much-needed warmth. Brynolfsson bristles with inner conflict as Agne, first having to overcome himself before he can try to connect with others. His own history of inheritance hangs like someone else's albatross round his neck - as he, though not the original architect of his problems, can't get to grips with the hand fate has dealt him on his own terms. This constant battle lends his scenes with Nordström an unusual charge, the hampered attempts at softness and connection over the birds his son loves, filled with pathos. The moments of family closeness are also often injected with a bone-dry humour, such as the trio and younger child gathering together to witness a cow and bull copulating or the anti-climactic opening of Christmas gifts.

While emphasising the grind of the family's life, the content becomes thinly stretched over the running time, although Assur is adept at creating striking images - such as the shadows of the ravens of the title on a barn wall or the threat of violence posed by a piece of machinery. Sounds - including the eerie booming call of a bird - and music are also used sparingly but effective. Assur and his cinematographer Jonas Alarik create compositions that linger in the mind, even after the characters' voices begin to fade.

Reviewed on: 06 Oct 2017
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A troubled farmer and his family struggle with the hardships of their lives.

Director: Jens Assur

Writer: Jens Assur, based on the novel by Tomas Bannerhed

Starring: Reine Brynolfsson, Jacob Nordström, Maria Heiskanen

Year: 2017

Runtime: 114 minutes

Country: Sweden

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