Digital Review – The County (2020)

There’s been numerous instances of aggrieved farmers spraying their local bank with slurry as a way to highlight a grievance.  The woman at the centre of Grimur Hakonarson’s Icelandic drama takes a leaf out of their smelly book, but does it in her own way.  Her weapon of choice is milk.  Gallons of the stuff.  And her target is the local co-op, because she’s convinced the organisation is riddled with corruption.

In The County, Hakonarson is back on the same territory as his 2015 award winning comedy, Rams – the farming community in Iceland, raising animals in one of the most stark and unforgiving landscapes in the world.  In this case, they’re dairy farmers, selling their milk to the co-operative which appears to be in control of just about every aspect of the agricultural town: it gives loans, runs the supermarket, sells the farmers all the equipment and supplies they need.  There isn’t a pie without a co-op finger deeply stuck inside.  But when Inga’s (Arndis Hronn Egilsdottir) husband dies in strange circumstances and she discovers his involvement with the co-op was deeper, and less honourable, than she thought, she starts to look into its activities and becomes the focal point for a campaign to call a halt to its all pervading influence.

It’s the classic David v Goliath story, mixed with some gender politics as Inga is the only woman running a farm for miles around and topped off with the premise that the actions of one single person can make a radical difference to everybody.  For Inga, it comes at a high price: having lost her husband, her protests and continued posts on Facebook put the future of her farm and her home in jeopardy.  Not that it matters to her and, from having been a lone voice, she slowly gathers a group of supporters, coming up with a plan to oust the co-op and establish their own association for selling milk.  In the context of their community, they’re preaching revolution, making the film feel like an allegory which could echo numerous situations, historical and contemporary.

This is a very different proposition to Rams and its bone dry humour surrounding two eccentric brothers.  The remote location, emphasised by the minimal soundtrack, are much the same, yet the tone is entirely different.  A much more serious, thoughtful film, it suffers from being on one note which, over its 90 minute running time, becomes monotonous.  There’s little relief from it – one moment of decision and accompanying loud music after an hour and that’s about your lot – so that, even when the climax arrives in the shape of the crucial vote at the co-op members’ meeting, it doesn’t really feel like it.  It’s a moment that benefits from some smart camerawork, preventing us from seeing the show of hands and, instead, focusing on Inga’s face, but there’s little to make us hold our breath.

Its other problem may be one of translation, but it’s hard to believe that a co-op could be so all-powerful that Inga likens it to the mafia.   As we see for ourselves, this is a members’ organisation, a democracy and it’s hard to envisage something so inherently benevolent as a sinister force. Despite Egilsdottir’s excellent and sympathetic performance, it undermines the entire premise of the film and it’s thanks to her efforts, and those of the strong supporting cast, that we still keep watching.

★★★


Drama | Cert: 12A | Curzon Home Cinema, 22 May 2020 | Dir. Grimur Hakonarson | Arndis Hronn Egilsdottir, Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson, Sigurour Sigurjonsson, Hannes Óli Ágústsson

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