The County

 

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A film with a heroine who will make audiences feel fully invested.

 
County, The

   

The Icelandic filmmaker Grímur Hákonarson had a hit film with his first feature, Rams (2015). That work was notable for daring to blend moments of grim drama with a kind of sardonic humour so individual that it seemed rooted in its setting. Despite that if one were looking for something close in spirit to that mix the choice might well fall on that greatest of films by the Coen brothers, 1995's Fargo. That movie comes to mind for another reason too when watching The County: both are films in which the pivotal character is an engaging middle-aged woman. Here it is a farmer's wife, Inga, played by Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir but, somewhat unexpectedly, this film which puts her screen centre makes no attempt to recreate the blend of the comic and the dramatic that gave Rams its distinctive character.

 

The country setting for The County enables Hákonarson to retain the appeal of the Icelandic scenery but, with only one possible exception (a rather bizarre episode in which our angry heroine sprays milk over the outside walls of the offices of the company known as the Co-op), the tone is entirely serious throughout. Initially, indeed, the fact that a death in mysterious circumstances is an essential trigger to the story development suggests that The County will function as a thriller. But as the tale develops the character of the drama emerges as something less easily categorised.

 

Inga is part of a community noted for dairy farming and we soon come to realise that the Co-op, which is run by one Eyólfur (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and had originally been created to protect the interests of the farmers, is now a set-up of a very different kind. It profits by insisting that local farm produce is sold exclusively to this organisation while at the same time requiring that all farming necessaries be purchased from the Co-op despite being cheaper elsewhere. Circumstances soon lead to Inga becoming aware of the extent of the corruption and of the pressure being put on the farmers to comply. This causes her to turn to Facebook to express her concern suggesting there that the Co-op's behaviour echoes that of the Mafia. But can she persuade her neighbours to form their own co-operative that will take a stand against the Co-op and will she endanger herself by acting in this way?

 

The County may feel like a small-scale work but Egilsdóttir is so ideally cast that the piece looks set to be a success even if the intensity of the drama seems to slacken in the second half. The final scenes, however, are more questionable. There is a big speech which doesn't quite match the overall tone of the piece (it even puts one in mind of the Frank Capra movies of the 1930s such as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) and it is followed by a long sustained close-up that all too obviously seeks to manipulate the audience's responses by giving a false impression of what is happening. Furthermore, the ending on account of being prepared for only very indirectly comes across as being far more glib than it actually is. But, despite these drawbacks late in the day, The County contains much that appeals, especially the splendid performance of Arndís Hrönn Egildsdóttir.

 

Original title: Héraðið.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir, Sveinn Oláfur Gunnarsson, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Hinrik Ólaffson, Hannes Óli Ágústsson, Hafdis Helga Helgadóttir, Edda Björg Eyjólisdóttir.

 

Dir Grímur Hákonarson, Pro Grímar Jónsson, Screenplay Grímur Hákonarson, Ph Mart Taniel, Art Dir Stigur Steinthórsson, Ed Kristján Lodmfjörd, Music Valgeir Sigurósson, Costumes Margrét Einarsdóttir.

 

Netop Films/Haut et Court/Profile Pictures/ONE TWO Films-Curzon Artificial Eye.
92 mins. Iceland/Denmark/Germany/France. 2019. Rel: 22 May 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 12A.