The County, Glasgow Film Festival 2020 review by Pat Byrne
Grímur Hákonarson’s film is set in a rural community in Iceland. From the outset you gain a sense of the place with shots of a remote farmhouse and frost covered fields. The demanding nature of the farmers’ work is apparent; an early scene shows Inga (Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir) perfectly cast as a middle aged farmer, struggling to deliver a calf in the barn of Dalsmynni, the family’s dairy farm. At the end of the day Inga and her husband Reynir (Hinrik Ólafsson) are worn out and barely able to say more than a few words before their heads hit the pillow. Just briefly exchanging enquires about ‘insemination’ and ‘fertilizer’.
Like all their neighbours Inga and Reynir are members of the Co-op, a supposedly democratic organisation serving the community. However, members are required to obey the rules, which includes buying from, and selling to, the Co-op, which dictates the prices. Farmers are also indebted to the Co-op for the purchase of robotic equipment to convert their barns.
When Reynir dies when his truck crashes Inga and her family are left devasted. The scenes of her being hugged and comforted by friends and family are handled with the same subdued but touching emotion that characterises much of Hákonarson’s approach – with nothing overdone.
Inga finds out that Reynir’s death wasn’t an accident and that he took his own life. She discovers that they are more heavily in debt to the Co-op than she had been aware. The family’s account is cut off in the Co-op shop and Inga approaches the boss of the Co-op Eyjólfur (Sigurður Sigurjónsson), who reinstates the account in her ame and offers sympathy and his support. The apparently mild mannered Eyjólfur is corrupt and, as we would say in Scotland, sleekit, with his false affability.
Inga has no idea how she is going to keep the farm going, as it was hard enough with two pairs of hands working every hour. The scenes of her working with the animals show her courageousness and determination, also her affection for the animals, whom she has given names. Her anger is triggered when Inga learns from Reynir’s friend Fridgeir (Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson) that the Co-op had gained control over Reynir. Under threat of losing the farm he had been forced to inform on his friends if they bought from sources other than the Co-op.
When Inga finds out the extent of the Co-op’s corruption, she takes to Facebook to denounce them as a Mafia. On the back of this she is interviewed for the National News by a young female journalist. The cinema audience is behind Inga all the way as she demonstrates her feistiness, buying fertilizer from a cheaper source. Leifur (Hannes Óli Ágústsson), a particularly nasty giant of a man, the enforcer, who does Eyjólfur’s dirty work comes to warn her. She responds by throwing a shovel-full of cow dung onto his car windscreen.
Everyone in the cinema is rooting for Inga in a particularly memorable scene when she drives her red lorry past the Co-op’s administrative building and sprays it with milk. However, support for the gutsy Inga and her plan to set up an alternative Farmers’ Co-op is hard to sell as everyone in the community is dependent on the co-op. But Inga is determined to take on the bad guys.
The film is enjoyable on many levels. It’s refreshing to see such a wonderful performance from a leading character in the role of a middle-aged hard-working woman, sans makeup and fancy clothes. The characters, even those with smaller roles, are all well depicted. Reynir only appears at the start of the film, you are drawn to him and a connection is built, the camera settling closely on his troubled face is particularly effective. The sets are carefully drawn, from the scenes of the frost covered deserted fields to Inga and Reynir’s bedroom with its functional, dated decor and the angst ridden community meetings. The demanding nature of life is shown through the repetitive nature of never ending routines of feeding and milking the cattle. Much of the pace is slow, reflecting rural life, but the film never at any point feels anything less than engrossing.
In the Q & A, praise for Hákonarson’s film interspersed every question asked. Originally the director had considered filming a documentary and not everyone in the area was happy with the issues his film raised. Hákonarson explained his approach to creating tension with emotional rather than physical violence and we were intrigued to learn that the lead actor actually did deliver the calf. Some of the audience members were from Shetland and other rural parts of Scotland and they spoke of how accurately the film captured the way of life in rural communities. In The County Hákonarson has produced a film that reflects the injustice and corruption that is sadly so evident in the world today. However, it is most definitely a crowd pleaser.
The place, the characters and the situation all come together perfectly in this David and Goliath story that travelled successfully from rural Iceland to the heart of Glasgow.
Pat Byrne, February, 2020.
This section: Book and Event Reviews, Cinema, Glasgow Film Festival 2020, Pat's Home Page Blog
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