Director Anna Muylaert (The Year My Parents Went on Vacation) skillfully renders generational, economic and social divides with humour and heart in her latest feature The Second Mother.
This class-critiquing charmer is centred on the endlessly endearing Val (Regina Casé), a tightly wound, middle-aged live-in housekeeper who works for a wealthy family in São Paulo. She has lovingly raised the family’s now teenaged son since he was only a toddler, while sending money back home to a small town in northern Brazil where her own estranged daughter, Jéssica, was being raised by relatives. The delicate balance of the household is thrown into chaos when Jéssica (newcomer Camila Márdila) comes to São Paulo to write her college entrance exams, marking the first time that she and Val have seen one another in over ten years. Val makes arrangements for Jéssica to stay on a mattress in the maid quarters, but the young woman instead accepts an offer from the homeowners to stay in the guest room—an offer that was designed to be politely refused.
The unspoken class barriers in the household quickly come to the foreground as Jéssica crashes through them with her candour and unflinching confidence. She speaks her mind, eats the boss’ gourmet ice cream, and even takes a dip in the pool (much to the horror of the lady of the house, who goes so far as to have it drained). Initially, Val is mortified that her daughter does not seem to know her place, but she soon comes around to reconsidering her own.
A rich, complex and delightful comic drama, The Second Mother subverts the absurdity of the familial, generational and class constructs we all subscribe to. Culminating in a touching dénouement, the film underscores the importance of embracing your own inherent sense of self-worth.
“Ms. Muylaert’s guiding principle seems to have been fearlessness, and her film, which was shot by Barbara Alvarez, is superb on all counts.” (Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal)
“As we switch sympathies from scene to scene, Muylaert forces us to think big about the clash between idealism and acceptance, a philosophical war that spills beyond the walls of this small story into every corner of our own lives.” (Amy Nicholson, Village Voice)