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Film Review: Driving Mum (Á Ferđ Međ Mömmu)
by Marinell Haegelin

Hilmar Oddsson, Iceland, Estonia 2022

DRIVING MUM is a unique pilgrimage into past regrets and discovery that Icelandic writer-director Hilmar Oddsson envisions with darkly edged redemptive aplomb. Living on the remote baren edge of northern Iceland with nary a neighbor in the 1980s, the domineering Mamma (Kristbjörg Kjeld) and scruffy son Jón (Ţröstur Leó Gunnarsson) occupy time knitted to their livelihood, while listening to taped radio shows; they sell the well-known Icelandic lopapeysa sweaters abroad. Every so often a small boat putters across the fjord bringing tapes and making or taking deliveries. Mamma concurrently nags, bosses, and worries about Jón; his escape is to the rugged outdoors with his camera. An avid amateur photographer, he develops and prints the black-and-white photographs himself.

For reasons known only to Mamma, she demands Jón photograph her at Gullfoss Waterfall, even choosing the outfit to wear. Jón wearily, warily agrees. Then she dies. Bound by his word he dresses and fixes her hair before roping her into the back seat. Once on their way in the rattletrap car, he soliloquizes to his circumspect dog and Bresnef (Dreki) companionably barks. Meeting a van of hippies on a snakelike rural road, the tetchy dyed-in-the-wool bachelor silently snaps photos, until they painstakingly back up. Stopping at an eatery, his incoherency is misjudged and, one could say, rewarded. Jón begins adapting to the outside world accompanied by an illusory performance troupe and melodious choir. The backseat-driver’s verbiage drives her son to distraction, and he makes a decision after he meets a long-ago friend (Hera Hilmar). Jón and Bresnef’s adventures lead to revelations leading to unforeseen solutions.

Kjeld and Gunnarsson are phenomenally well-suited to their robust characters, as is Dreki—a scene-stealer—and the strong supporting cast. Oddsson’s laconic screenplay and Óttar Guđnason’s communicative cinematography, shrewdly edited by Hendrik Mägar, create a tantalizing bizarreness for audiences, e.g., the tangled yarn scene at floor height tells us volumes. Tőnu Kőrvits’s imaginative soundtrack harmonizes an assortment of instruments, illustrative of the film’s emotional scope. Jón and Bresnef’s revelations are harbingers of solutions: Letting go can usher in new beginnings and an end.