“The County” is a tense and intimate Icelandic drama about a tragedy that brings a tempest in a teapot to a boil.
Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir plays Inga, a dairy farmer whose life is upended when her husband dies behind the wheel of the truck he drives as a side-hustle, just to keep the family farm going.
Dalysminni has been in Reynir’s (Hinrik Ólafsson) family for generations. But in recent years, it’s become more automated. When we meet the couple, she’s complaining about the lack of vacations, the dent they’re not able to make in their sizable “robotic barn” debt, and the prices of their local farmers’ co-op.
But we’ve seen Reynir make deliveries, and take note of where the paint he’s dropping off came from — NOT the co-op.
Oh well, he jokes-threatens (in Icelandic, with English subtitles). “You won’t be painting any more houses around here!” Not after Reynir rats them out.
This co-op has become more than a local institution, a means for its farmers to sell their milk collectively and supposedly get discounts on the things they buy at “the company store.” In 120-plus years of existence, it’s become a hydra-headed monster, over-charging, underpaying and making versions of the “Nice little farm here. Be a shame is something HAPPENED to it” remarks to its indebted members.
Reynir bears the weight of that debt, and of his “informant” work. But as soon has he makes noise about “getting out,” he runs off the road and winds up dead in a ditch.
Inga is suspicious. The cops give her no solid answers, but their theories could point in several directions, not that they consider the co-op one of those.
Inga? She’s gutted and furious. Whatever happened, sleep/stress-deprived accident, “suicide” or something else, the “co-op” is implicated in her mind. The high-handedness of the fellow who runs it (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and the verbal bullying of his enforcer (Hannes Óli Ágústsson) drive her to distraction.
So she writes a “Mafia Co-Op” manifesto, parks it on Facebook, and lets the cow chips fall where they may.
“The County” is about a slowly-escalating feud in a Scandinavian culture where cooperation, getting along and collective thinking and action (aka “socialism”) has long been the rule.
Egilsdóttir portrays a complex swirl of emotions in Inga. She was frustrated before Reynir’s death. Inga’s grief mixes with dismay as she faces the new life. And every time she turns around, there’s the co-op, “helping” with the farm. Then cutting off her credit because it was in her husband’s name. Having to speak to director Eyjólfur (Sigurjónsson) about that is another petty infuriation.
Her manifesto, as is the way of these things — especially in movies — divides the community.
With each escalation we wonder how far this will go, right up to the closing credits. What are these people, on both sides, capable of?
Grímur Hákonarson’s film plays up this small-scale conflict, and hints around the edges at larger themes. How can a remote community and its institutions and business model survive in the age of Amazon?
Hákonarson doesn’t make the mistake Hollywood would have made in such a story. “Democracy” at its most basic is messy, the world is evolving and even the “winners” here are sure to lose, whether they continue to run “The County,” or choose to flee it.
MPA Rating: unrated
Cast: Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir, Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson, Hannes Óli Ágústsson, Sigurður Sigurjónsson.
Credits: Scripted by Grímur Hákonarson. A Dekanalog release.
Running time: 1:32