Review of “Driving Mum” – heartfelt Icelandic film captures both joy and sorrow of a road trip

Estimated read time 3 min read

This film hits just about every sweet spot possible: it is Icelandic and shot on black and white stock; it is a quirky road movie set in an unlikely place (Iceland); and it has a cute dog and features characters who knit. What is not love? If there had been cats and Ian McShane in a supporting role, it might have got five stars.

Hilmar Oddsson, the writer and director, does not have to cater to particular preferences as it is evident that he has a strong grasp on crafting this bittersweet blend of comedy and drama. The film expertly balances between different emotional tones, aided by its deliberate use of extended, subdued shots. This creates a sense of artistic somberness, yet also allows for moments of humor to thrive within the film, as long as the timing is spot on.

The story takes place in a remote part of Iceland and follows Jon, a lonely farmer, and his widowed mother as they live a simple life in their homestead. They survive by knitting and selling sweaters made from lopi wool, which is delivered to them by a local boatman. Due to the setting in the 1970s or 80s, there is no modern technology and their only source of outside news is through cassette recordings.

One evening, Mamma’s stern expression changes as she passes away. Jon feels it is his responsibility to fulfill her final wishes, which include dressing her body in her best clothing, applying heavy makeup, and driving her to the town where she was born on the opposite side of Iceland for her burial. Bresneff accompanies him on the trip, sitting alert in the front seat while Mamma is secured in the back of Jon’s Ford Cortina, appearing as if she has simply fallen asleep. Despite her passing, Mamma still manages to communicate with Jon and criticize his life choices, such as when he fell in love with Bergdis (Hera Hilmar). As they continue on their journey, Jon starts to imagine seeing Bergdis in every woman with long hair they pass, and gradually he begins to let down his guard and connect with the strangers they encounter.

The artistic approach of this film is similar to that of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, specifically in the way music is utilized in a comedic manner. However, this is distinctly an Icelandic film that showcases the beauty of the vast and empty landscape. While Iceland is often used as a substitute for various locations – both fictional (such as in Game of Thrones) and real (like in the recent season of True Detective, where it stood in for Alaska) – it’s refreshing to see it portrayed as itself for once.


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