New feature film from iceland: the wrath of a woman

An Icelandic farmer’s wife takes up the fight against a mafia-like cooperative. New in theaters: "Milk War in Dalsmynni" by GrImur Hakonarson.

Even a fighter needs a breather sometimes Photo: promo

The word Dalsmynni sounds almost cute. Harmless and nice. Like something small. And in fact, Dalsmynni, which stands for a dairy farm in Iceland, is part of a small, even close-meshed structure: a cooperative. For more than a hundred years, the cooperative has drawn a circle of self-sufficiency around its members, which is supposed to free them from competition, from ReykjavIk, from the world.

Farmers buy only the products of other farmers, everything is strictly regulated, income flows into specially set accounts. An idea conceived to provide security and protection. But as it is when you overdo it with caring – eventually the protector becomes the guardian and what you actually wanted to protect is corralled.

It’s a powerful, perfidious swamp that opens up before a widow named Inga (ArndIs Hronn Egilsdóttir) in GrImur Hakonarson’s new film. Yet Hakonarson has long been familiar with depicting problematic land scenarios: in "Sture Bocke" (2015), he showed the lives of two quarreling brothers, breeders of sheep, who only found their way back to each other after a government agency threatened both of their livelihoods.

In "Milk War in Dalsmynni" the danger also comes from above. And this time she is not afraid to get physical: When Inga signals that she no longer wants to be part of the cooperative (and makes this known via Facebook by branding it a "mafia"), she suddenly gets a visit from some whipping boys who are tampering with buckets on her terrace.

Informers and snitches

For around Dalsmynni an apparatus of oppression has long since formed. There are informers and snitches, the common good is no longer above the interests of individuals, but below them. Of course, one does not say so; one claims the opposite. Everyone else is a liar. So also Inga.

It seems to be a motif that Hakonarson, who is also responsible for the scripts of his films, has taken a particular liking to: nasty people with instructions and threats in their luggage, who target stubborn, lovable and courageous country people. People like there are perhaps only a few of them left today. For Hakonarson, they are the true heroes, the free spirits of the present.

And Inga is one of them. She becomes a widow, however, only in the course of the film. Previously, she had lived with Reynir, both of them running the Dalsmynni dairy farm. With little time for each other and at the limit of their strength, but passionately and with a certain inner peace. If you saw Inga after work with a cigarette in front of the barn, then you suspected both exhaustion and a sufficiently great agreement with this existence to continue it in this form and even to appreciate it.

Yet it quickly becomes clear in "Milk War in Dalsmynni" that Inga was apparently alone in feeling this way. When Reynir has an accident with a truck, no signs of an attempt to brake can be detected. It looks as if Reynir had deliberately calculated the accident, speculating on his own death. A shock for Inga.

Putting pressure on him

Gradually, reasons become apparent. That Reynir was put under pressure by the leaders of the cooperative. That he monitored the purchases of other farmers and, should they have been made in the free market, for example because products were cheaper, also ratted them out. Events that Inga had not known about until then. And which make her angry.

In an early frame of the film – the domino effect of knowledge is still in its early stages for Inga – the knitted sweater she is wearing looks like it has a wave pattern on it. The ripples reach up to her neck. "She’s a little unbalanced right now," Leifur, one of the carrying cooperators, still tries to minimize what Inga is feeling and what enables her to do what determines the further escalation of this story: to dive deep into the shit that has been stinking in and around Dalsmynni for a long time.

"Milk War in Dalsmynni." Directed by GrImur Hakonarson. With ArndIs Hronn Egilsdóttir, Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson a.o. Iceland/Denmark/Germany/France 2019, 92 min.

GrImur Hakonarson directs Inga as a thunder goddess next door. Who slumps on the sofa in front of popcorn and Hollywood movies, but who at the same time is ready to run the farm on her own, to shake up the other farmers and to drive up in front of the cooperative’s offices with a tank full of milk to demonstratively spray the white liquid on the facade.

"Milk War in Dalsmynni" is about a woman’s anger that does not remain in the private sphere – probably because the private sphere has long since been infiltrated here anyway – but comes along with a force that cannot help but blow up the existing, the encrusted, the contaminated.

Harmless and nice. Inga and her farm could not be further away from such attributions. And not small at all: here, nothing less than a system change is taking place.