‘Rams’ director Grímur Hákonarson swaps sheep for cows in this quietly gripping study of moral courage set in a remote Icelandic dairy farming community. Battling corruption at every turn is struggling farmer Inga (Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir), whose husband has been blackmailed into whistleblowing on his friends for the local co-operative. Then there’s an accident and it slowly dawns on Inga quite what menace the monopolistic co-op, and its genially intimidating CEO (Sigurður Sigurjónsson), are capable of. Soon she’s on Facebook and the TV news comparing them with the Mafia.
What follows could be played in a number of ways: as a crusading drama in the spirit of ‘Erin Brockovich’ or the kind of tough Scandi-noir-style thriller that would have you worrying about the farm dog’s wellbeing. You can even half-imagine it repurposed as a broad British comedy with added cowpat-based slapstick. But Hákonarson takes the Ken Loach approach of zeroing in on what it takes to stand alone against a grim status quo. Egilsdóttir centres it all wonderfully as the lugubrious Inga, bemused to find herself slowly transforming into a champion of the underdog.
Beneath the superficial stillness – no one moves very fast in this windswept world – there’s a burning sense of injustice at work, and a lovely streak of bone-dry humour too. Hákonarson makes comic capital out of automated farming processes: the milking machine Inga has been told will transform her work turns out to be hilariously clanking and erratic. There’s also a nice visual metaphor when the co-operative’s lackey turns up and starts spraying fertiliser on Inga’s fields. It’s clearly not the first time they’ve poured shit on her doorstep, but thanks to the fire and tenacity of this inspiring woman, it’s almost certainly the last.
Available now in the UK on Curzon Home Cinema.