Directed by: Grimur Hakonarson
Written by: Grimur Hakonarson
Starring: Arndis Hronn Egilsdottir, Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson, Porsteinn Bachmann and Sigurour Sigurjonsson
Something is rotten in the state of Iceland. More specifically, a small, rural community in northern Iceland. Director Grimur Hakonarson has made another film about Iceland’s agricultural industry, following his 2015 Cannes hit Rams. Hakonarson's strength as a filmmaker is he can blend human stories into films about wider economic and social issues. While Rams tells a story about how two estranged brothers deal with the mass culling of their only commodity, their flock, his new film, The County, is a story of one woman’s stand against corrupt systems which keep her, and the rest of the farming community on the bread-line.
This corrupt system is a co-operative. It is pointed out towards the end of the film that this co-operative was formed to benefit the whole community. Over time however, the co-operative became the very thing it was set up to defend against, an oppressor. Or, as our protagonist, Inga (Egilsdottir), labels it- a ‘Mafia’. The co-operative looks after the upkeep of the local farm yards. Farmers have accounts for their groceries. However, it is acquiesce that they buy their materials from the co-operative and sell their end product back to the same organisation.
Stirred by a personal tragedy, Inga has had enough of the co-operative monopolising the only industry in their isolated town. Why buy off the co-op, if you can get the material cheaper off Amazon? she asks. Cheaper materials will allow them to compete in the Reykjavik market. The co-op’s leader, Eyjolfur (Sigurjonsson), insists that the co-operative stands for unity, and that individual farms would not survive without it.
Inga has all the hallmarks of a Ken Loach protagonist. She is a gentle and loving soul. Early scenes show how much she cares for her livestock. While her husband refers to them by number, she refers to them by name. However, when her gentle nature is tested, she shows that she will not succumb to intimidation. Hakonarson treats us to a few very satisfying stick-it-to-the-man scenes. Like in Rams, Hakonarson manages to balance comedy and tragedy perfectly, although The County is less overtly comedic, save for the aforementioned scenes, and Inga’s verbal quips in the face of capitalist rhetoric.
In the end, the film’s message seems to be to prioritise personal happiness over things in life you just can’t change. Inga gives it a good go though.