Hilmar Oddsson’s latest feature, Driving Mum, begins with the middle-aged Jón (Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson) sitting with his elderly mother (Kristbjörg Kjeld) in their small home in rural Iceland, furiously knitting while listening to cassette recordings of the radio. The mother expresses that she’d like to be laid to rest in a certain location when she dies and, as if she knew what was coming, dies shortly after. Her son dresses her in her best funeral attire (with far too much make-up) and places her in the backseat of his rundown old Ford, his beloved pet dog sat in the front. So begins the strangest road trip movie ever made.
Presented in a sombre black and white, the rugged and sparse landscape that forms the backdrop of the journey comes across more like an otherworldly limbo than scenic countryside, especially when the thick mists descend and obscure visibility. It’s not just the scenery that’s bizarre either; everyone the protagonist encounters is just as peculiar. There’s an irate German tourist, a French backpacker who can’t speak Icelandic and drunken restaurant attendees celebrating a birthday, none of whom realise there’s a dead woman in the car. The most bonkers of all, though, is a circus troupe who crop up a handful of times during Jón’s drive.
This surrealness is served with a side of dry humour which doesn’t land as often as it should. The funniest moments are when Jón has full conversations with his mother. She may be dead, but she still insists on backseat driving and giving unsolicited life advice. Besides these Norman Bates-like interactions, the other gags simply don’t work as well. While the scenarios Oddsson creates are undoubtedly beyond madness, their significance is impenetrable. This is assuming that there is a deeper meaning to these encounters. Rather, the entire plot could be one long-running joke at the audience’s expense.
With a runtime of almost two hours, the latter theory appears to be the more likely option. There are times in this film when watching it is as fun as a road trip with a corpse would imaginably be. And when a third-act plot results in a drawn-out ending, it becomes harder to be charmed by Oddson’s oddball style.
Driving Mum does not have a UK release date yet.
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