Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Anna Muylaert
Stars: Regina Case, Michel Joelsas, Karine Teles, Camila Mardila, Lourenco Mutarelli.
Like 2014’s Casa Grande and Sebastian Silva’s The Maid, this slow paced but involving domestic comedy/drama from writer/director Anna Muylaert (Durval Discos, etc) looks at the class system in modern Brazil. It also looks at themes of family, class and status in contemporary Brazil. The other major theme running throughout the film is the sense of disconnect between a mother and her children.
Val (Regina Case) is a hard working live in housekeeper for a wealthy family in Sao Paulo. Val has raised their teenaged son Fabinho (Michel Joelsas) from a young age and is closer to him than his own mother Barbara (a suitably cold and aloof Karine Teles). Ironically though while she has been nursing Fabinho in relative luxury in Sao Paulo, she has ignored her own teenaged daughter Jessica (Camila Mardila), who has been raised by relatives back home in Pernambuco. She is estranged from her own flesh and blood. Then Jessica comes to visit while sitting entrance exams for university. She is openly contemptuous of the rules of the family and her headstrong attitude throws the household into disarray, creates plenty of tension, and even threatens Val’s position. For her part Val is disapproving of Jessica’s more liberal attitude. Jessica’s subtly subversive presence throws the once orderly household into turmoil.
Dr Carlos (Lourenco Mutarelli), the head of the household, is also sexually attracted towards Jessica, which further adds to the simmering tension in the house.
The dysfunctional relationships, different values, familial tensions, sexual tension and class structures are exploited for some uncomfortable laughs here. There is an irony at work here as Val is more of a mother to Fabinho than his own mother, while she is less of a mother to her own daughter.
Writer/director Muylaert has created some well-drawn three dimensional characters here. The film is anchored by the superb performance from Case, a popular Brazilian television star, who brings a natural style and world weary quality to the role, although she is matched by Mardila, who brings intelligence to her endearing and brassy performance.
The Second Mother is a thought provoking, warmly engaging and entertaining look at the class system in modern day Brazil. Both Case and the film have been picking up awards on the festival circuit. Muylaert’s low key and unassuming approach and pace though may not suit everybody.