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The County: frozen out in Iceland

Dairy farm couple clash with a cartel in brilliant, intriguing tale set in a barren landscape

22 May, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir in The County

THE COUNTY
Directed by Grímur Hákonarson
Certificate: 12a
☆☆☆

A FARMING couple in a remote Icelandic community provide the starting point for this insightful, off-beat drama.

The tensions between an idea of rural idyll and the fact modern farming applies industrial techniques to production provides a backdrop to an intriguing tale.

Inga (Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir) and her husband Reynir (Hinrik Ólafsson) run a dairy farm. It’s a smallholding set in a barren landscape – wild hills and mountains, tinged with snow most of the year.

While the care of their livestock is hard enough work in such an environment, the detachment they feel towards the creatures they care for as they are forced because of economics to adopt mass production techniques means they face another battle.

Their town is dominated by a system where they have just one place to sell their milk – and in return, one place to buy their supplies.

This closed cartel, which townsfolk call a co-op (a misnomer – it’s more like a Mafia protection racket) is at the centre of the couple’s gripes: they believe they can buy their feed cheaper elsewhere, and are caught in a cycle of debt because of the arrangement.

When tragedy strikes in mysterious circumstances, Inga is faced with taking on powers that have dominated her and her neighbours’ lives.

This is brilliant film-making. Wonderfully, believably acted – Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir is so believable you feel she must be a farmer when not in front of the camera – well-paced, gorgeous to look at and above all outstandingly original. Who’d have thought the travails of a widowed dairy farmer in Iceland could be so completely enthralling?

It also has a deeper consideration.

Iceland was knocked for six when greedy bankers caused the 2008 crash – its financial collapse was, in relative terms, the biggest in economic history anywhere.

But the Icelandic people’s response was admirable – they recognised the rotten system and took steps to ensure it never happened again, and those guilty were made to pay for their crimes. There was no blame shifting on to public expenditure and the crash was not used as an excuse to impose swingeing public sector spending cuts, so those who had played a part in the banking failures were the ones who had to pay to put it right.

Instead, the Icelandic political class, along with the wealth hoarders, were made to face responsibility for their actions.

And at the heart of this fable-like story is the simple truth of how monolithic capitalism cheats the worker out of the fruits of their labour.

• Available to stream through Curzon Home Cinema

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