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Driving Mum reviewed at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

Driving Mum by  Hilmar Oddsson with Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson, Kristbjörg Kjeld, Tómas Lemarquis, Hera Hilmar... Iceland 2022 1h 52minutes


Reviewed by Lopa Kaul:

With a Masters in Literature, she has been writing and watching films since an early age and attending film festivals. Now she dabbles in music journalism while dreaming about writing her novel.


World premiere at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, official competition Set in a barren fjord of Iceland in 1980, we have Jon and his elderly mother living a quiet life, knitting and listening to the radio. An instant favorite at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival where it had its world premiere, Driving Mum is a dark comedy taking inspiration from the philosophical strains of absurdism to point out just how absurd life is and how we still end up finding meaning in it. With the mother’s dying wish being a photograph at Gulfoss and getting buried at Eyrarbakki, Jon decides to take her on a road trip after she passes away. And while the audience may have thought that the very premise of taking one’s dead mother as a passenger in a road trip was funny enough, it is the hijinks and incidents that occur on the way that has one bending over in laughter followed by moments of introspection.

Director Hilmar Oddsson takes your usual road trip movies and spins his own twist on it as he gives us Prostur Leo Gunnarsson’s Jon, his mother played by Kristbjorg Kjeld and his dog who each have their individual journeys while travelling to the same place. And if the scenic locations of Iceland which shone even through the black and white film weren’t enough, the beauty of Driving Mum is that it allows us to enjoy the film at its surface value or ruminate over the filmmaker’s message or do both. As the three travelers drive by the coast, they face silly obstacles that reflect the absurdity of everyday life from causing traffic by driving too slow to getting car help from the same hitchhiker Jon accidentally rejected. And despite being a doting son, we realise that their relationship is fraught as the mother had hidden that Jon’s girlfriend was pregnant and her meddling had led to an end in their relationship which he regrets to this day.



The irony of each incident is further embellished by the music, full of traditional and 70s music.


Being a musician, it’s a testament to Oddsson’s music career as his choice of songs take us to that era. The folk music adds to the absurdity as it uses haunting string instruments with a tongue in cheek melody. And while Jon doesn’t say much, his transition from vacant stares to crestfallen looks speak volumes as he goes from a simple trip to fulfil his mother’s wish to finding out life-changing secrets. Yet he goes with the flow, reminiscent of the absurd heroes of Camus and Kafka. He himself does absurd things like getting food for his dead mother and giving away his dog to a random couple. The mother, dead she may be, is fleshed out as well, allowing us to get to know more about her as we realise she was tricked into a marriage that she later couldn’t leave.

But no film is perfect as there are always elements that could be refined to make the storytelling that much more engaging. Editing could be crisper and the ending could have been shortened to even out the absurd incidents with the sudden heavy moments of introspections. We then have the concept of the dead mother talking as the voice in Jon’s head which itself has a multitude of potential. However, a strange direction is taken with the mother’s inconsistent acting like a statue and no emotions on her face. It would have worked better if Kjeld had been allowed to show emotion like she did when Jon confronted her about his ex-girlfriend's letter that she feigns to not know in a hilarious manner. Additionally, the dream with his ex, Bergdis didn't have to turn to a fiery act, it already showed his confusion and his determination. Instead, it just acts as an exotic element via Icelandic culture. Yet, Driving Mum is a quirky and eccentric film that tickles one’s funny bone while causing an existential crisis all at the same time, a feat in itself.


Thanks to Bijaya Jena


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About Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

Started in 1997, the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival has grown into one of the biggest film festivals in Northern Europe and busiest regional industry platforms, hosting more than 1000 guests and industry delegates and over 160 journalists. The festival screens around 250 features and more than 300 shorts and animations and sees an attendance of 80 000 people annually. In 2017 the festival was covered in 71 languages with a potential global media audience of over 1.1 billion people.

As of 2014 the festival holds the FIAPF accreditation for holding an international competition programme which puts the festival into the so- called A-category of film festivals, alongside other 14 festivals in the world (including Cannes, Berlinale, Venice, Karlovy Vary, San Sebastian, Shanghai, Tokyo etc).  

Black Nights has an umbrella structure with two sub-festivals PÖFF Shorts and youth and children's film festival Just Film taking place concurrently with the main festival,
two off-season festivals - Haapsalu Horror and Fantasy Film Festival and Tartu Love Film Festival - and a fully-fledged film industry platform Industry@Tallinn, organised jointly with the Baltic Event Co-production market.

Black Nights Film Festival 16 Nov - 2 Dec
PÖFF Shorts 20 Nov - 25 Nov
Just Film 16 Nov - 2 Dec
Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event 26 Nov - 30 Nov



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