The County 2020 ****

“Cleaning up the swamp’ is a phrase likely to be retired fairly soon; it’s synonymous with creating a deeper, darker swamp rather than actually removing one. Nevertheless, the notion that one honest individual can change decades of corruption is a seductive and powerful one, and that’s pretty much the story we get in Grímur Hákonarson’s accomplished drama The County.

Inga (Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir) runs a dairy farm with her husband, but he’s hopelessly compromised by his relationship with the local co-op, a co-operative that supposedly looks out for the prosperity of individuals, but does the opposite in practice. For the director, Inga’s situation is one constructed to create insight into real world problems.

‘There’s a place in the north-west of Iceland where the only co-op is, it went bankrupt in the 90’s, but only survived in this area,’ says Hákonarson ‘It owns most of the enterprises, including the only newspaper. It controls the distribution of products, banking fishing, everything but tourism. I’d heard Mafia-type stories about how they work, I thought about making a documentary about it, but no-one wanted to be filmed talking to me, so a feature film was the route I chose.’

Inga has been shielded from the worst excesses, but when her husband dies, she takes over the farm and discovers that her husband was something of a rat, an informer who regularly provided information about other farmers to the co-operative to stay afloat. Inga refuses to pay the same tribute, and with a Facebook posting, sets herself on a collision course with the aging, male-dominated co-op holding all the cards in their on-going dispute.

‘These scenes are based on real things which have happened. Inga and her husband are fictional characters, I thought it made sense for a woman to be fighting against a male-dominated, conservative body, so it felt timely to have the main character a woman and a rebel.’ says Hákonarson. ’She finds that she’s sacrificing her freedom for her economic security.’

The County’s most striking scene sees Inga using farming equipment to engulf the co-op offices in, shall we say, farming materials of a liquid kind; if The County gets a remake, this scene will be the first moment to get scripted.

‘It was a fictional idea that I knew of, similar things have happened, someone threw yolks on the parliament, French farmers have used sprinklers to spread on government buildings,’ says the director. ‘That scene changes the story because suddenly people get behind Inga and her struggle becomes political as well as personal.’

There’s also a notable theme developed about the dangers of mechanisation; watching how technology is used to replace the farmer’s job of milking his cows is a sobering visual.

‘In the script, there was more about the mechanisation for farming, but I see it as a visual metaphor for how the farmers get stuck in a world of machinery, just as the cows are themselves. And we use sounds from the farm for the music, when Inga gets irritated, the robot sounds transform into a revolutionary music.’

When the world is changing in a rapid and unhappy way, it might feel that it’s quite a leap to expect audiences to be interested in the problems affecting milk distribution in Iceland. But writing this in May 2020, The County is probably the most essential film of the year so far for anyone who cares about exactly how we might emerge from the worst natural disaster in a century. The bitter-sweet ending here is both rousing and yet realistic; Inga loses a battle, but also wins something more important, and the manner of her eventual triumph says something valuable about how each individual can help create a better world.

I interviewed Grímur Hákonarson at the Doubletree Hotel in Glasgow 2020.

The Country is released on Curzon Video from today. Link below.


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  1. I actually grew up on a small dairy farm and even back then we were the only farm I knew of where we still milked by hand (outside of the Mennonite communities). I could see Iceland having less mass/industrial farming and being slower to adopt that technology, but is this movie set in the present day?

    • Yes, present day setting. Maybe farmers would be less sentimental about milking methods, but to the layman ie me, it seems like there’s something not right about industrial milking methods. maybe I’m stuck on some dark ages ideal about milkmaids or something….

  2. I do think there is something character building about labor intensive jobs. First and foremost I think it shows kids that you won’t die if you actually have to work hard physically. (you might wish you were dead, but you’re not, hahahaha).
    It also shows them that not everything can be done by creating a machine, an app or whatever. Obviously, with this movie and what I wrote, that window is getting smaller.

  3. And that would be most kids. Is there something character-building about menial jobs? I thought there was at the time, and would happily go back to being a checkout at Asda (my first job). But seeing robots milk cows is like something from a Chaplin comedy, only not funny, just sad.

  4. Oh man, mechanization. I’m watching it happen at our local walmart. First it was the self-checkout for 10 and under items. 10 little scanners crammed into a small area that ONE employee could keep an eye on. Now they’ve converted half their big conveyor belt check outs to self-scanning. I think last time I checked they had 3 checkout lanes manned by humans, because of alcohol and tobacco products.

    I feel really bad for any kids growing up today who don’t have parents with well established jobs…

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