Film Review: The County (NZIFF 2020)

“It’s the Co-op that keeps the community alive, you should know that,” states one farmer to another as they square off under the umbrella of a harsh Icelandic sky. The County tells the story of one woman’s audacity to take on the powerful who hold the means of her financial survival in their ledgers, camouflaged by their Icelandic sweaters. The County, is a dark Icelandic comedy drama, written and directed by Grímur Hákonarson who is best known for Rams (2015).

Director: Grímur Hákonarson
With: Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir, Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Hinrik Ólafsson, Hannes Óli Ágústsson, Edda Björg Eyjólfsdóttir

Inga (played by Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir) and her husband Reynir (Hinrik Ólafsson) are debt ridden and lumped with an ‘automated’ farm that provides no pleasure. Their community is owned by the Co-op, who control the entire sales and supply chain, down to the local supermarket. To transact with competition from Reykjavík is to not be a ‘good company man’. Reynir is a reluctant company man who is forced to dob on his fellow citizens whenever they dare to buy supplies outside of the Co-op. Then tragedy strikes, leaving Inga to struggle to keep herself and her farm from sinking into nullity and thus the hands of the Co-op.

Inga is a diligent, unanimated personality. The film opens to her calving, chains around hoofs, pulling with calm determination. Smiles are a rarity in the town, the robot milking systems have seemingly pumped out all joy in the quotidian along with the product. Shit vacuums are viewed with bemusement.

When the Co-op’s insidiousness becomes apparent, Inga takes to Facebook to share her thoughts on the organisation she likens to the Mafia. The Co-op bully Leifur (Hannes Óli Ágústsson) is soon around to pay her a visit, sent by Co-op boss Eyjólfur (Sigurður Sigurjónsson). A quintessential scene comes when Eyjólfur appears at Inga’s home on horseback and quietly discusses the weather at the kitchen table before talking to her about the importance of protecting the county as if she couldn’t possibly have the intellect to understand what is really going on. Well she does. The more Inga is threatened the more resolute she becomes in her crusade. She reaps silent satisfaction in her newly awakened purpose to stand up for herself armed with milk and the desire to restore democracy within her community.

Arndís is naturally compelling as Inga, she displays an array of emotion with few words. Her unexpected sagacity is delightful watching. Toward the end of the film the locals gather for a town hall meeting to decide the Co-op’s fate, and hence Inga’s fate. Here I thought the film was about to be wrapped up fair too nicely. Propitiously there were still a few punches to be thrown, minus any fisticuffs. Then the sun comes out.

The County is part of The New Zealand Internal Film Festival, playing online and in selected cinemas around the country. For tickets/online access, please go HERE.

Andy Baker