Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 27, 2021 2:20 pm 
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A timely tale about fighting farm monopolies

In The County/Héraðið, Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir plays Inga, a farming wife who suddenly becomes a widow. She is a tough middle-aged woman something like Frances McDormand. The death of her husband Reynir (Hinrik Ólafsson) in his truck is suspicious. It may be self-caused and related to impending bankruptcy. But later we learn the problem was worse than that. And it all goes back to the local coop. It's the only place the farmers can sell their products, and they must buy all their supplies there too or face dire consequences.

After Inga's husband's death has settled in she starts to speak out on Facebook, calling the coop a "mafia." The local TV news comes to interview her. So begins this rapidly moving drama about the manipulations of an over-powerful local body. Hákonarson was already known for his intensely focused 2015 Rams about feuding sheep-herding brothers. This time the focus is on dairy farmers. They're at odds too, but not entirely. We also get a look at the leading figures of the coop. This is a timely tale again drawing on Hákonarson's documentary background.

In the nineteenth century the community around Erpsfyörður were Inga lives was dominated by a monopoly that controlled where the dairy farmers sold their products and bought their supplies. This was when the coop was established - to free them of that. Then, it was democratic and run by local citizens. Now it has become like the old monopoly. The need is to find an alternative, sufficiently overcoming the farmers' fears from the coop to organize.

Hákonarson's movie again has authenticity, though nothing is out of place, almost to a fault. I said the real topic of Rams was austerity and that's partly true here. We can't fault the director for focusing on people when they aren't having a good time. But don't expect a smile. I only saw one: a younger man when he agrees informally to join the new coop. It stood out like a sudden ray of sunlight.

This topic is more than ever topical. It is not too much a stretch to compare what Inga is turning against to the way corporate power and Bill Gates have pushed the "Green Revolution" in India that is leading to massive suicide by farmers there. An analogy in the current situation is how Reynir have converted their barn to a robotic operation to produce more milk, but put them heavily in debt.

The power to manipulate is ever easier to spread and small farmers are fair game. We don't know where the power behind the this local Icelandic "mafia" can be back traced to, but power is ominous and must be constantly fought. This is Hákonarson's true subject. Austerity is only a byproduct of the situation this time.

The Variety reviewer at Toronto called this "the yin" to Ram's "yang" as "an appealing and endearingly modest tale." This indeed is more rousing than Ram's, but it's stern stuff too.

In the film we get to hear Icelandic spoken. The title Héraðið preserves the ð (capital Ð) or eth, in Old English called ðæt. Icelandic is the descendent of Old Norse, a close cousin of Old English. It's interesting to hear a modern language spoken in an underpopulated, isolated part of the world quite similar to the language Beowulf, English speakers' most ancient literary treasure, was originally recited in.

The County/Héraðið (2019), 90 mins., debuted internationally at Toronto Nov. 2019, showing at over half a dozen other festivals including Hamburg, Chicago, Leiden, Palm Springs and Göteborg. It releases nationwide in the US virtual and in theaters Apr. 30, 2021.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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