The Movie Waffler New Release Review - DRIVING MUM | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - DRIVING MUM

Driving Mum review
A man drives his mother's corpse across Iceland to lay her to rest in her home village.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Hilmar Oddsson

Starring: Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson, Kristbjörg Kjeld, Hera Hilmar, Tómas Lemarquis

Driving Mum poster

You can't lose with a film located in the remoter regions of Iceland. A monochrome landscape of soft snow and hard pyroxene, amidst thick plains of barley and wheat that are alongside fjords as deep and cold as darkness itself, all right up there at the top of the world. "Oh Alfadir, take me there’," your beleaguered urbanite soul sighs as you watch the opening frames of Hilmar Oddsson's singular black comedy, Driving Mum. The longing intensifies as we pan across to a ramshackle small holding, wherein - and this is the killer cosy - an elderly lady and her adult son sit actually knitting as they listen to the radio. Talk about the bliss of solitude. And they've got a dog, too (name of Brezhnev, in an early indicator of this film's pleasingly weird humour and '80s period setting). Is this not the aspiration, the yearning we console ourselves with to get through the relentlessness of another day: space, freedom, being away from it all? Namm namm.

Driving Mum review

It's a utopian ideal, perhaps. Yet, as we come to realise, the isolation which Jón (Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson) and Mamma (Kristbjörg Kjeld) enjoy is crushingly immaculate: broadcasts will not reach the farm, so the radio shows which they listen to are taped on the mainland by a contact and delivered in bulk via boat every week. The tiny family are not only secluded from the world, but out of sync with time, too. Weather reports are from uselessly earlier in the week and the news is yesterday's. "We're not really going anywhere now, are we?" Jón impassively observes. Still, at this point in their existence, at this distant station in life, at least son and mother have each other. But, as another film located on an unlikely island maintained, life, or to be more precise, death, finds a way and overnight Mamma slips away to Andlang.

This is the narrative trigger for Jón to drive away from the shack in order to reluctantly honour Mamma's final wishes: to be buried in her birth village of southwest Eyrarbakki and that Jón should not remain in the Westfjords eking out a solitary existence. Firing up his Mercedes 200 series (if my googling is correct... by the by, searching up cars in Iceland turns out to be a fascinating rabbit hole - with a suggestion that Russia would dump job-lots of automobiles as trade for fish, etc; a proposition borne out by the random nature of vehicles Jón encounters in his ensuing road trip, another otherworldly aspect of this ethereal movie), and with Mamma seatbelted upright in the back, Jón embarks on a picaresque of if not of discovery, but necessity. If it was up to him Jón (lazy, passive), would stay in the lakeside shack until he too went the way of his mother. Yet as Mamma and Driving Mum suggests, isolation is not the natural way of people, who need and thrive upon connection with others.

Driving Mum review

And thus, along the journey Jón meets characters of varying comic peculiarity, all the while chastised by the beyond the grave voice of his mother, literally and figuratively backseat driving her son who has internalised Mamma as a coping mechanism. Driving Mum's presentation of expiry is comically blunt, but fittingly so, mindfully respectful of the cruel farce that is death (it is ridiculous that one day you're knocking about liking something on Twitter and the next you just do not exist. You have to laugh, I suppose). When Mamma passes, the atmosphere is gently mournful, and Jón is heartbreakingly stoic. Smash cut to his subsequent attempts at post-mortem make-up: the full-on Baby Jane pancaked grotesquery. As ever, with its humanity, humour and deep love, the antidote to death is life going on.

Speaking of which, one of the figures - along with other lonely farmers, hitchhikers, angry Germans - which Jón repeatedly encounters along his journey is a woman of around 20 years his junior, whom the film implies Jón recognises. Bergdís (Hera Hilmar) is a lost love from Jón's past, and, just like the censorious intonations of his mother, is another figment of his imagination. Via the figure of Bergdís, glimpsed smiling from across the road or in the window of a passing bus, Driving Mum relates a masculine mid-life crisis, wherein seemingly straightforward and effortless youth beguiles because it is not the here and now, and Bergdís configures a replacement for Mamma: a substitute companion and carer for Jón. Infatuation, the projection of our fears and hopes onto another, culminates in a pitiless punchline characteristic of this film, which is completely generous in its humanity, yet realistic about our foibles (to whit, there is a roadside cabaret sequence set to Yes Sir, I Can Boogie, one of the world's most hopelessly sincere yet amazingly ludicrous songs).

Driving Mum review

Usually, I fucking hate films which are based upon the trope of a mismatched couple forced to travel a long distance in a car together (it is difficult to accept that those sorts of circumstances would be conducive to hard won mutual understanding, plus driving is boring because you can't read or drink doing it), but Driving Mum -amusing, moving, surprising- is a beloved exception. With typical narrative absurdity, Jón ends the film in perhaps the most opposite environment to where he begins, but happily so, enjoying the relationships that he didn’'t realise would fulfil him. No man is an island, Driving Mum suggests, and nor should he live on one.

Driving Mum is in UK cinemas from March 1st.

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