After the global success of his Un Certain Regard winner Rams, director Grímur Hákonarson returns to his native Iceland with another humanist farmland fable. Bitterly funny and deeply affecting, The County plays out a timely political allegory against a jaw-dropping natural landscape, aided by a brainy, tenacious anti-heroine and Hákonarson’s dry Nordic humor.
When we first meet Inga (a brilliant Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir, in a star-making performance), she is midwifing a calf, in the middle of another back-breaking day on the small, nearly bankrupt dairy farm she shares with her husband, Reynir (Hinrik Ólafsson). She is one of many hard-working farmers in her region who work under a bureaucratic co-operative that, having fallen out of the control of its farmers, operates as a monopoly, pushing her and her community deep into debt. After Reynir’s sudden and suspicious death, Inga learns the true extent of both her powerlessness and her late husband’s involvement with the co-op’s schemings. With an eye to the future, and with no other option, she aims to chip away at the co-op’s domination.
Before long, the grieving Inga’s public stance makes her a pariah, setting up The County’s brilliant, oddly funny, and deeply involving tightrope walk: Inga must cautiously bring her community over to her side, risking her safety and sanity along the way. Egilsdóttir’s Inga is an altogether unforgettable character, committed to the thankless task of ruining her life in order to rescue her community. Her harebrained stunts will either dismantle the local milk mafia or get her locked up, and Egilsdóttir’s singular presence brings compassion and integrity to Inga’s cockeyed fury.
Cinematographer Mart Taniel captures Iceland’s famously stunning countryside, lending a lush pictorial grandeur to The County’s social realist ethos, recalling the best of Ken Loach. The County cuts deep, putting a human face on an all-too-likely conflict, along with suspense, charm, and a touch of Scandinavian zaniness.