DIRECTOR: GRIMUR HAKONARSON
CAST: ARNDIS HRONN EGILSDOTTIR, HINRIK OLAFSSON, SIGUROUR SIGURJONSSON
ICELAND 2020; 92 MINS; CERT 12; SUBTITLES
REVIEW by SUSAN GRAY
The County is one of those rare films that manages to be brutal, yet lyrically beautiful at the same time. The film opens with a calf’s birth, pulled out from its mother by chains attached to its forelegs. At the other end of the chains, pulling and steering as if she were controlling waterskis, is Inga, pitch perfectly played by Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir. As the calf lands in the straw, ready to take its first breath and look at the world, we are also given our first, fuller look at the world of small Icelandic farmers, as Inga asks her exhausted husband Reynir, a brooding, tragic Hinrik Ólafsson, ‘when did we last take a holiday?’
But holidays are out of the question for Inga and Reynir, as they are tethered to his family farm through debt to the local farming co-operative. Encouraged to take out loans to buy the latest agricultural equipment, Inga reflects that they have been trapped into running a ‘robotic barn’. And Reynir’s entanglement with the co-op goes beyond financial, so when he is driving along a twisted, deserted road at night, every cinema literate particle in our body shields its eyes, because we know what’s coming next.
Yet in widowhood Inga blossoms. She comes to terms with her husband’s regrettable actions, and the pressures that drove him to them, and still mourns him. Inga’s face when she identifies Reynir’s body, is a vivid psychological portrait of loss, not just the loss of her husband, but the loss of the life they would have had together, if circumstances had not been so corrosively hard.
Through grief Inga challenges the county’s farming co-op, which has a monopoly both on local farms’ produce, and the supplies they need to function, blacklisting any member that shops around for fairer prices. She instantly see through the co-op’s slimy director Eyjólfur, (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) offers of sympathy and practical support, for what they are: further ways to control her livelihood, and by extension her.
Against a stunning snowy, then green spring landscape of vast spaces, Inga begins her fight against the co-op on Facebook, denouncing them as a mafia. Next she tries to sell her milk on the open market, while organising a break away co-op of dairy farmers. Naturally the opposition to Inga’s bid for freedom is ruthless, and while she enjoys some symbolic, and visually striking victories, ultimately the co-op’s financial hold over her farm is too strong, and she is made bankrupt.
But Inga’s fearlessness in the face of adversity, is greater than any temporary setback. Now she has started to grow, nothing can push her back, not a neighbour’s drunk son menacing her at night, not a rigged political meeting, or Eyjólfur’s sidekick. The County ends as we leave Inga singing along to the radio, motoring along to a future of her own choosing.