2010s

Review: Grímur Hákonarson’s ‘The County’

The County Héraðið Movie Film

Rebellion against capitalism comes in many forms: public protest, letters to MPs and, in the case of Inga in Grímur Hákonarson’s new feature, spraying an entire tank of milk up the walls of a corporate building. The County is a stoic and powerful tale of how conservative rule led by a few individuals is frightening in its premise (even in the most rural of areas), and how the sheer determination of one woman can change the fate of many. 

In the northwestern part of Iceland, there’s a large farming community. Many locals trade within a localised cooperative where the selling and buying prices are set by the board in charge. However, the co-op is rife with corruption, blackmailing anyone who sells produce out of the community, and hanging the threat of past debts over their heads. Slowly emerging through the opening scenes is the hero, Inga, played by the exceptional Arndís Egilsdóttir, who initially quietly detests the co-op’s monopolisation. But after the mysterious death of Inga’s husband, she no longer contains her frustrations. Alongside the heavy burden of the farm debts, Inga’s reality has shifted entirely, with the farm work now resting solely on her shoulders. Yet in quiet moments of solace, which are framed via the lonely silhouette of a house illuminated by the Nordic sky, she realises that things cannot continue the way they are. Inga takes her fight to social media, choosing the community aspect of Facebook as the best platform to garner attention, while also acknowledging that making a direct public attack on the co-op risks her safety. The mirrored shots and paced cinematography from the talented hand of Mart Taniel reflect Inga’s loneliness, exacerbated by the chill of the icy winds and snow-capped peaks, as she contemplates how her next move to ensure the survival of others will threaten her livelihood.

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The County Héraðið Movie Film

This subtle, adamant stand is not just poetic but incredibly moving. The County’s bleak atmosphere is typical of Scandinavian-style contemporary realism, which is what makes it so gripping, for the film clutches upon the emotion in Inga’s face and the determined glances between her allies. The isolated landscape also makes Inga’s cause feel more burdensome. The head of the co-op, Eyjólfur (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) — who gives off a calm air, happy to put pressure on those not complying, akin to Animal Farm — attempts to convince the community they are happy and profitable under this regime. Hákonarson is masterful in exploring how corruption is applicable to many walks of life, and how many people seek to rebel against corrupt powers yet still fall fearful of repercussions. And yet, there is a joyful, comedic nature in The County, with humor emerging from Inga’s acts of revenge. What feels very much spirited to the director’s last film, Rams (2015), is the demonstration of deep-set cultural Icelandic values of community while showing that local spirit is being hindered by the greed of the individuals in charge. This concept only spurs on Inga’s fight after the horrid discovery of how the co-op secretly laced her late husband into their web of conspiracies. 

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The County Héraðið Movie Film

The war of the keyboard has become a common kick-starter for protestors, and The County perfectly twines together the ideas of the modern mafia, but without the handgun showdown, instead opting for flinging cow excrement. Providing a remote view of a small town, the film hones in on the mundane community tasks of milking animals and tidying up hay barns, which is what makes The County feel so much more relatable: the reality of how these situations bear down on our everyday lives. In addition, the film is flooded with the enigmatic and bracing music of Valgeir Sigurðsson, who has composed orchestral music worldwide and worked with fellow Icelander Björk. Filled with powerful female-led moments, laid on the backdrop of the Icelandic countryside, Hákonarson’s crowd-pleasing humanist creation strengthens Iceland’s reputation within the international film circuit. 

The County released digitally on May 22, 2020.

Elle Haywood (@ellekhaywood) is a freelance film/culture writer, festival juror and submissions reviewer. She is currently an Associate Editor at Take One and studying a Masters at the National Film & Television School. Her work specialises in international festivals focusing on Scandinavia and Western Europe, sociopolitical events and independent filmmaking.