Review: ‘Rams’

An appropriately no frills portrait of designer Dieter Rams

3 mins read

(USA, 74 min.)
Dir. Gary Hustwit

Take a look around your kitchen. Survey your living room furniture and ogle your electronics. How many of them bear the Braun name?

Chances are that Dieter Rams designed something in your house. Rams profiles the German designer who fashioned many household items for brands like Braun and Vitsœ. The doc features an impressive catalogue of gadgets and furniture with designs that everyday viewers might take for granted. Rams has an offbeat sense of humour and his awkward yet pleasant screen presence illuminates the mind that approached design in his signature way: everything is pure pragmatic functionality. As the doc tours through various items of Rams’ creation, it showcases products made with sleek and unfussy practicality. Rams’ approach is very “no frills,” but as the doc dives further into his philosophy and work ethic, one sees that is exactly why his designs endure.

Director Gary Hustwit, who directed Helvetica and executive produced this year’s audience pleaser Design Canada, zeroes in on Rams’ 10 principles of good design to encapsulate his work and influence on the field. Rams emphasizes innovation, durability, utility, and sustainability. Every aspect of the aesthetic and composition serves to enhance the user experience.

His products aren’t cheap—both in terms of cost and quality—and they run counterintuitive to today’s standard for disposable culture. However, the film sees how these products endure while others fall out of fashion in the way that shag carpeting and shoulder pads went the way of the dodo. His designs aren’t for individuals; they’re for a collective group of users who interact with products in day-to-day living.

Rams follows the designer’s principles as Hustwit delivers a film that is itself very “Ramsian.” There isn’t a second to this 74-minute film that doesn’t need to be there. Brightly lit with warm natural palettes and cut with no-nonsense precision, the film plays without any flashy pizzazz to ensure a timeless, yet contemporary aesthetic. It’s unfussy, uncontrived functional filmmaking with everything in the service of the subject and the viewer, just like Rams would have wanted.

Rams opens Friday, Dec. 7 at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.

Rams – Official Trailer from Film First on Vimeo.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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