Rugged rural Iceland and organised crime don’t seem like natural bedfellows, but the third film from native director Grímur Hákonarson (Summerland, Rams) crafts a taut and enthralling drama out of one woman’s occasionally reckless attempt to take down a corrupt local co-operative.
The County opens slowly, matching the grey, agricultural landscape. We see middle-aged Inga (Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir) and gruff husband Reynir (Hinrik Ólafsson) quietly going about their business of keeping the remote family dairy farm afloat. When Inga suggests that they purchase fertiliser from a cheaper supplier instead of the local co-operative, Reynir replies ominously: “We belong to the co-op.” He’s not exaggerating: like other farmers in the area, Inga and Reynir are only allowed to buy supplies from the co-op, and only allowed to sell their milk to it. Their business is also heavily in debt to… you’ve guessed it: the co-op.
It’s a seemingly hopeless situation, so when Reynir dies in a bizarre lorry crash, Inga doesn’t protest when a police officer suggests it might have been suicide. Initially, the co-op’s crafty president Eyjólfur (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) appears to be Inga’s saviour, dispatching a lackey to look after the farm while she mourns, but Inga’s grief curdles into rage when she learns that Eyjólfur had been forcing Reynir to snitch on other farmers who’d traded behind the co-op’s back. In a suitably boomer-ish bid to take back control, Inga makes a furious Facebook post denouncing the co-op as a “mafia” running a corrupt local monopoly, and it becomes the springboard for her vendetta against Eyjólfur’s toxic organisation.
Aside from an almost surreal set-piece where Inga sprays the co-op’s offices with gallons of her unsold milk, Hákonarson keeps developments low-key and grimly realistic. At one point, Eyjólfur tries to keep locals on-side by insisting the co-op is keeping this community alive instead of allowing it to become a collection of summer houses for rich Reykjavik dwellers; it’s an argument that will surely chime with anyone from a gentrified part of rural Britain.
Hákonarson’s bittersweet ending is beautifully judged and allows Egilsdóttir to add another layer to her cleverly restrained performance. As stubborn and occasionally slightly deranged Inga, she’s the beating heart of this dour but ultimately very compelling David and Goliath story.
Director: Grímur Hákonarson
Starring: Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Hinrik Ólafsson
Release date: May 22 (Curzon Home Cinema)