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Driving Mum (Film Review)

3 min read

Prokino Filmverleih

‘The Road Movie' is the perfect film genre for studying personal human development. The main character(s) start in bad places emotionally or socially, sometimes both; by the end, the viewer sees how they have changed into better people. They've overcome racial prejudice (The Green Book), the emotional barriers that prevent them from being a family (Little Miss Sunshine) or hang-ups about bloody vengeance against Rutger Hauer (The Hitcher). The journey becomes the destination, and the car becomes the vehicle for existential therapy. Such is the case in 's comedically bleak new film Driving Mum. Also known as ‘Driving Miss Daisy for the Socially Anxious'.

It's Iceland, 1980, and bachelor Jon (Thröstur Leó Gunnarsson) has spent the last 30 years looking after his overbearing mother, Mamma (Kristbjörg Kjeld), on a remote farm in northwest Iceland. So remote, in fact, that weather reports have to be recorded on cassette and delivered once a week by boat. Their monotony of farm work, radio and knitting grind to a screeching halt with Mamma's disadvantageous death. Jon prepares his Mamma's corpse to carry out her last wish. To be buried in distant Eyrarbakki, and a photograph of them at Gullfoss Falls. Dressing Mamma in her Sunday best and applying a lot of heavy makeup, Jon, along with dog, Bresneff, set off in an old Ford Cortina and encounters the strange, wonderful and wonderful strange across Iceland. At the same time, his dead mother nit-picks at him.

Shot entirely in black and white, Oddsson has made one of the most alluring films of the last decade. Mixing greyscale with the beautifully bleak landscape results in Iceland becoming a character in the story that, at times, is more important than the cast of characters he encounters. The isolation of being lost in the extreme long shot melts away as Jon opens up to himself and others in this bitterly funny film.

The story is a heartfelt, tragic and comically farcical story filled with life's absurdity. Oddsson has combined Ingmar Bergman's style with Martin McDonagh's deadpan gallows humour. The viewers find themselves laughing at moments that they shouldn't. At one point, Jon flags down a hitchhiker in the middle of nowhere to help repair the car. Jon, freed for the moment, can pour out all his frustrations and hopes while the hitchhiker, with a terminal disease, explains how his own journey allows him to confront his own impending death. It's a heartfelt, tragically funny scene, as neither man speaks the same language.

Each scene is loaded with symbolic readings. Jon's removal of the bolder at the edge of the farm at the journey's start liberates him from his isolation. Sisyphus, he ignores the rock altogether and goes looking for life. Coming in contact again with the outside world is literally a circus performance of mad clowns at the edge of a village. He embraces the absurdity of his existence and seeks freedom. Or maybe the symbolism is empty, pretty imagery Oddsson uses to play with the viewer with no deep meaning. In this case, it automatically becomes deep as it shows the empty ridiculousness of the human condition. French philosophers have a whole section in Waterstones to cover that one.

Some have called Gunnarsson Jon a cantankerous loner who revitalises himself into someone better throughout the film. That is partly correct; he is indeed a loner. But a better reading would be that he is a man whom the domineering of his controlling mother has made him introverted. His aggression is a form of naivety. Unsure how to communicate with anyone anymore, he lashes out at first unless it's about his camera. Lamenting on his lost love, Bergdis (Hera Hilmar), Jon mourns less about Mamma and more about the possible life he might have had.

Throughout it all, Mamma speaks to him, chastising him from the rear set, the visual equivalent of that little voice in everyone's head. That voice no one can ever seem to drown out. Or maybe it is just the signs of mental exhaustion that come from driving his dead mum across Iceland. It's wide open to interpretation.

A tragic comedy or comedically tragic film that asks profound questions and provides entertainment.

Driving Mum is in cinemas now