Don’t cry over spilled milk — get even. Or, rather, speak up, protest, organize, and take a stand against corruption. That’s the lesson at the heart of The County, writer/director Grímur Hákonarson’s subtly powerful drama about a grieving widow who takes a stand against the domineering co-op that rules the roost in her Icelandic farming community.
Inga (Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir) has worked hard all her adult life, helping her husband, Reynir (Hinrik Ólafsson), with the unrelenting labor of running the busy dairy farm that’s been in his family for generations. When Reynir dies unexpectedly and Inga discovers that his role as a snitch for the co-op is likely to blame, she’s infuriated, and she takes action. A passionate Facebook post decrying the co-op’s mafia-like control of the local farms leads to media attention — and then retaliation. But Inga isn’t one to retreat quietly. She ups her game, and she soon discovers that she’s not the only one fed up with the way things are.
The County takes place against the breathtaking Iceland landscape, and all of its characters wear sturdy boots and chunky wool sweaters while they trade veiled (and not so veiled) threats, but the stakes end up feeling as high as any big-city-set mob movie. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, as the saying goes, whether you’re mucking out a stable or controlling a casino. The co-op in Inga’s town has gotten greedy, straying from its mission of acting in the farmers’ best interests, and she’s determined to take them to task.
Egilsdóttir gives a remarkable performance as Inga: She is by turns vulnerable and stoic, brave and full of self-doubt. Her world has been abruptly and irrevocably thrust in a new direction, and she has to step up in a big way. Thrust into the spotlight, she finds herself capable of more than she realized — and her determination and defiance inspire those around her.– Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Sherin Nicole: There is a scene, at a pivotal point in The Country, when our heroine’s mouth alone is in sunlight; everything else including the shady ‘milk mob boss’ sitting across from her is cast in shadow. That patch of sun ignites a revelation from which there is no turning back. Our heroine is speaking truth to power. Thus a lone femme worker’s revolt is fueled. Herein is the strength of this stark Icelandic film about a personal rebellion. Inga, played with verve and a shimmering yet contained rage by Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir, fights the corruption and misogyny of a dairy co-op with pure force of will, milk, and manure. Yes, you’ve read that right. I’m grinning because it is incandescent. The Country is a galvanizing film, easily relatable for women who have had far too many men wink at us while they take advantage, hurl insults at us when we won’t be silenced, or threaten us where we color outside the company lines. Bravo for writer/director Grímur Hákonarson for this ballad of a woman unbowed.
Pam Grady: Rural Iceland’s frigid, austere beauty provides an almost tactile backdrop to this drama of one woman’s crusade against local corruption. When her husband Reynir dies as their farm teeters on bankruptcy, Inga (Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir) is left not just with a hole in her heart, but with the growing suspicion that the weight Reynir carried in his last days had everything to do with the heavy-handed, monopolistic practices of their county co-op. Grief transforms into righteous anger, goading her to speaking truth to power. Egilsdóttir is stunning as a plain-spoken woman, left bereft but not beaten by her husband’s absence and who intends to see that his death was not in vain. Writer/director Grímur Hákonarson has fashioned a riveting drama that limns how corruption can hide within an institution founded to serve a community, putting the very people it is supposed to protect at risk.
Susan Wloszczyna: Director-writer Grimur Hakonarson allows his female star to shine while engaging in what could be called good trouble, whether tossing manure on a trespasser’s windshield or spraying the cars parked in the co-op’s lot with milk. Meanwhile, the villain behind the evil empire is a scrawny over-entitled rich man (Sigurour Sigurjonsson) who surrounds himself with brawny enforcers. The fact that the mostly male farmers never make an issue about a female taking the lead as they fight back is refreshing. When we first see Inga onscreen, she takes some wry joy in the birth of a new calf. By the end, she brings to life a better life for her community. Read full review.
Loren King Icelandic filmmaker Grímur Hákonarson’s The County is an evocative portrait of stoic dairy farmer Inga (Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir) as she quietly but forcefully challenges the co-operative that, over the years, has lost sight of its original, idealistic purpose. The co-op, under the leadership of Eyjólfur (Sigurður Sigurjónsson), has become an oppressive force to the struggling community of farmers, forcing them to buy products such as fertilizer at high co-op prices and restricting how they sell their hard-earned milk. Read full review.
Marilyn Ferdinand The people united will never be defeated. Many a social movement has started with that mantra in mind and carried its true believers to victory. But what happens when a people’s movement becomes institutionalized? In The County, dairy farmer Inga (Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir) finds out the hard way that the co-op that she and her husband belong to has become corrupted by greed and power, making their members dependent on them for survival and demanding so much in return that many of the members are reduced to the status of tenant farmers on their own land. Director Grímur Hákonarson is quite effective in using the rugged countryside of Iceland, particularly the opening long shot of Inga’s farm surrounded by shield volcanoes, to signal a story of resilience against the coercive forces against which Inga will fight to break the stranglehold of the co-op. For me, the wonderful Egilsdóttir is the Frances McDormand of Iceland, and I look forward to seeing more of her work.
Jennifer Merin Following his highly acclaimed Rams (2015, Cannes Un Certain Regard-winner), Icelandic writer/director Grímur Hákonarson applies his masterful storytelling skills to crafting an exquisitely nuanced film in which narrative exposition is conveyed cinematically through beautifully framed images that capture pivotal intimate moments in close up within the wider context of Iceland’s magnificent landscape, with compelling sound design that utilizes natural sound to elevate emotion, and brilliant editing that sets pace and pov, and galvanizing performances delivered with superbly authenticity. The story is strongly feminist and not to be missed. Read full review.
Sandie Angulo Chen: There are few places in the world that photograph as beautifully as Iceland, and The County director Grímur Hákonarson (Rams) knows how to display his beautiful country. Actress Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir gives a transformative performance as Inga, a recently widowed dairy farmer trying to take down the corrupt administration of her district’s monopolistic farm cooperative. Inga’s fight against systemic injustice brings her alive; she goes from dour and sad to practically glowing with purpose. The movie doesn’t end how you’d expect. There’s no fist-raising Norma Rae moment, no standing ovation from Inga’s fellow farmers as she confesses how controlling and threatening the Co-op (which is run by suited bureaucrats) was to her family. But there’s a freedom to her unburdening actions that’s beautiful to behold. Egilsdóttir deserves international accolades for her nuanced and evocative portrayal, and Hákonarson has deftly positioned himself as Iceland’s premier filmmaker.
Leslie Combemale Sisters or, rather, pissed off female farmers in Iceland who demand equity and justice are doing it for themselves. Inga (Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir) has a husband and partner at their family farm who dies unexpectedly. He leaves her neck-deep in debt to the corrupt CO-OP in their small community. When she determines to fight that power, she’s frozen out in her town by the other farmers, Inga is left to do all the work on her farm by herself. Well, she can manage do that and to fight corruption at the same time. As is so often the case with women, Inga becomes the catalyst for change. It’s always a delight to find a film that’s been written and directed by a man that centers on an older woman of character and gives her a strong story arc without once instigating an eye roll from female viewers. The way Grímur Hákonarson films Egilsdóttir, in his choice of camera angles and in the pauses and pacing he allows the lead actress to dictate and gives the performer, and by extension, the character, the agency she deserves. There is a chosen optimism that Inga exhibits — one born out of experience — that will resonate and inspire, even as audiences watch her face unjust circumstances.
Liz Whittemore Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir’s performance is immensely nuanced. The County doesn’t need to rely on sweeping cinematography of the Icelandic landscape. It shines in the intimate and naturalistic way we are shown Inga’s existence. The script has a beautiful flow to it. Once our leading lady has had enough of the patriarchal monopoly, her response is so satisfying you’ll be unable to repress a smirk. The ending is celebratory in a refreshing way. The County perfectly portrays the passion of a woman in her pursuit of doing what’s right.
Cate Marquis Icelandic writer/director Grímur Hákonarson’s drama The County focuses on one woman’s fight against a corrupt authority that dominates her Icelandic farming community. The Co-op was founded as a way for farmers in their rural county to have control over their own economic fate but over the decades it has lost its democratic character, and is now under the control of one man, and functions more like a monopoly. Dairy farmer Reynir (Hinrik Ólafsson) had always been a loyal supporter of the Co-op but after his sudden death, his loyal wife Inga (Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir) learns about the dark side of his relationship with the organization. Slowly, she sets out to make things right. Inga embarks on a journey of both grief and inner transformation but without actually hitting the road. Her journey changes not only her but her community, in this drama filled with fine performances, brilliantly-framed cinematography and satisfying storytelling.
Title: The County
Directors: Grímur Hákonarson
Release Date: April 30. 2021
Running Time: 92 minutes
Language: Icelandic with English subtitles
Screenwriter: Grímur Hákonarson
Distribution Company: Dekanalog
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin