Beware of a woman with nothing to lose. The Icelandic political thriller, The County, sees a farming woman single-handedly take on the stand-over co-op responsible for the death of her loved husband and enslaving her farming community as cash cows.
Isolated, husbandless and with her farm facing bankruptcy, Inga (Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir) exposes the festering scam of corruption keeping all their lives financially imprisoned. Rather than accepting the status quo of silence, she airs the co-op as the Icelandic Mafia on national television and a target is placed on her head.
The co-op has been getting fat from their uncontested gains for too long, appeased by the spineless never-ending money pit of a farming community. Misguided by their fundamental beliefs that men may assume the power and proprietorship of a husbandless woman, they make their biggest mistake; they underestimate the power of Inga.
Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir’s performance as Inga is inspired. Dealt the underdog cards; her unsuspecting bullies are ill-prepared for her attack as a stoic hunter. With nothing to lose, under the radar and underestimated, Inga’s menace is unrealised, unpredictable, explosive and wait for it, movie-magic justified.
Armed against bullies with little more than her honour, dignity, and integrity and unable to suffer fools, she is an easy hero to advocate for. Her exacting disruption to their corrupt control is relatable; she is a straight shooter, has no filter and at times laugh-out-loud funny. She throws spades of cow dung where we’d like to throw cow dung.
Director Grímur Hákonarson wanted to make a political statement; old-world values torn down by newer, shinier tyranny and capitalism. Hákonarson wanted his characters to depict the gritty rawness of real life, employing real-life farmers alongside professional actors. He gave us an old-world-values hero. He gave us a modern-day western. Inga embodies the lone cowboy making a last stand against capitalists willing to sacrifice human lives for their pot of gold. Her weapons of choice are common decency, honour, and integrity.
The director’s craft as a filmmaker in The County is visually economical. Film motifs are repeated in tell-tale signs of conformity and oppression with stark farmhouses bereft of adornment, landscapes naked and unwelcoming, and dialogue brief but impactful, giving us the slow burn of Icelandic minimalism. The brevity of visual composition intensifies a silent and unseen tension. You sense there is too much quietness and that something must snap.
The dramatic tension of The County is created by letting the audience experience the answers at the same time as the protagonist, sinking us deeper into Inga’s experience. We are not given an omniscient overview; we discover what will happen next with the character at the grassroots level. The camera doesn’t pan out to show us the answers to questions we are begging to be answered, and Hákonarson skilfully suspends the answer in the delay.
The County reframes a worldview on what matters most. The director asks of us what, or who, are we willing to stand up and become. Are our values and pursuits of more material gains driving us forward by sacrificing traditional systems in the quest for capitalism?
Director Grímur Hákonarson won the Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes in 2015 for his standout film Rams. The film was later remade in Australia starring Sam Neill and Michael Caton.