Some folks call it the simple life. Maybe it is compared to the big city, but farm living sure ain’t easy. And simple isn’t the best way to describe it anymore—with robotic arms milking cows every morning and oversized rumbas caked in filth attempting to keep the waste at bay. The repairs and upkeep alone are a nightmare. And that’s if you can sleep in the first place: Nothing robs someone’s night like the constant worry of debt.
But Inga (Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir) and Reynir (Hinrik Ólafsson) have each other, the farm, and the co-op. The co-op: They talk about it as if it’s the largest business in town, maybe the only business. Inga and Reynir live in a remote farming community in Iceland, removed from the larger cities to the south. She toys with the idea of leaving and following her children to the city, but the dairy farm is where they live and work. And work is a 24/7 endeavor to keep their heads above water. Then Reynir goes and does something stupid: He dies.
But The County, the latest from Icelandic writer/director Grímur Hákonarson, isn’t Reynir’s story; it’s Inga’s, and she’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore. Inga wants out of the co-op, and now that Reynir’s gone, her voice finds footing. But the co-op doesn’t want Inga to go. The co-op doesn’t want anyone to go. And, at first, it feels like no one in the county wants to leave the co-op. Then Inga’s crusade finds a partner. Then another. And another. A way out appears: A second co-op. This co-op might be better, or it might fall into the same corruption the first one did. It’s hard to say, really; there’s no accounting for the sins of others—even those we hold closest.
With its desolate landscapes, gray skies, and settings that look as coolly distant as the people in Inga’s life, The County could have been a sad, sorry affair. But Hákonarson manages to keep things just north of despair. The County could also have been funny—it has its moments—but Hákonarson takes care not to let The County become a whimsical look at one woman’s rebellion. Instead, Hákonarson favors a somber tone and maintains a movie that never quite slips out of register. It feels right while you’re watching it, but it also feels distant.
The County (Héraðið) (2019)
Written and directed by Grímur Hákonarson
Produced by Grímar Jónsson
Starring: Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir, Hinrik Ólafsson, Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson, Sigurður Sigurjónsson
Dekanalog, Not rated, Running time 92 minutes, Opens virtually April 30, 2021 at CU-Boulder’s International Film Series’ virtual theater