From Iceland — Monochrome Magic — With a Corpse for Colour

Monochrome Magic — With a Corpse for Colour

Monochrome Magic — With a Corpse for Colour

Published February 17, 2023

Photo by
Art Bicnick/ Film Stills

Hilmar Oddsson is a veteran of the film industry, making waves ever since his cinematic debut in 1986. “I’ve been doing almost everything in the book: documentaries, feature films, whatever,” Hilmar says. With his trademark stunning videography, his latest feature “Driving Mum” (“Á ferð með mömmu”) is a feast for the eyes.

The art of narrative  

“The idea is older than anybody could imagine. It originates from 1994,” says Hilmar of ‘Driving Mum’. That summer he spent some time in Bíldudalur, the hometown of actor Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson. “He was telling me stories about the locals and people there. He’s a very funny guy, and he tells stories very well,” shares Hilmar. “I was kind of inspired by the nature of the stories.” 

The film follows Jón, as he takes his mother’s corpse on a road trip from the Westfjords to the south coast to fulfil her last wishes. Set in 1980, the film stars Þröstur, Kristbjörg Kjeld, and Hilmar’s daughter Hera. Even though the story is entirely fictional, Hilmar draws inspiration from the likes of Jim Jarmusch. “I sometimes say I’m waving, I pay homage, or respect to somebody,” he says, stressing the importance of storytelling in his work. In ‘Driving Mum’, in particular, Hilmar pays tribute to his late father, a playwright who worked in the style of Theatre of the Absurd.  

“Many of my older films are very serious, dramatic in that sense,” shares Hilmar. “I wanted to write something in my personal style, my sense of humour, which is partly black and sarcastic.”

Contrasting perspectives 

One of the most striking features of ‘Driving Mum’ is the use of black and white imagery, with the stunning landscapes of Iceland as the backdrop. “Colours are extremely important for me. If I look back at my other films, I could describe (one as) my blue movie, this is my primary colour movie, this is my yellow movie,” says Hilmar. “This story came to me as black and white. There was no escape.”

Hilmar admits he was initially worried producers would try to talk him out of the idea of making a black and white movie, but it turned out, the team was completely on board. “Fortunately, nobody tried to convince me not to do it.” 

“For me, (Jón’s) journey has a symbolic meaning. We go from narrow fjords, steep mountains, over highlands, to a place that is flat,” the director explains. As the landscape flattens, we witness the transformation of the main character. “He realises things he’s never realised before, his mind opens up and he sees his life from a different angle — reverse what he has been living with so far.”

Initially Hilmar planned to widen the aspect ratio, as the landscape became flatter. “If you do something like that it has to be perfect. I would have to shoot the film chronologically and for practical reasons, that wasn’t possible,” he admits. 

Dreki’s debut 

Asked what was most challenging about making ‘Driving Mum’, Hilmar smiles: “Probably the dog.”

“There are very few people that specialise in animal training for film. They all have one thing in common — they’re extremely expensive,” he says. Through mutual connections, Hilmar was introduced to someone who had experience working with horses in another film. By luck, the person had three dogs and invited the crew to meet them — that’s how Dreki was cast in the role of Brésnef.

There was one particular scene Hilmar was really worried about, as he wanted to do it in one take. “After that shot I thought, this dog is a genius. He can do everything,” Hilmar shares. “When you’re working with animals, you do your best to make them do their best. The rest is editing and sound,” he says. “I think we were extremely lucky. The only thing we couldn’t do was to make him bark. He’s a silent dog.”   

It’s all downhill from here

Before premiering in Iceland, ‘Driving Mum’ toured international festivals and won the prestigious Grand Prix at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. But now it’s coming home.

“I’m very much looking forward to premiering in Iceland,” he continues, adding that he has no expectation for how the film will be received. “There are no negative reviews so far. The first review we got after the premiere in Tallinn was five stars. It was absurd,” Hilmar laughs. “I was joking with my producers — ‘Do you realise what this means?’ This means it will only go downhill from now on.”

“Driving Mum” will be showing in Bíó Paradís beginning February 17 and in Háskólabíó and Smárabíó from Feb. 24.

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