The Second Mother
Warm and wonderfully cheeky Brazilian satire, featuring a star turn from Regina Casé
Brazil's class system is scrutinised and satirised in this hugely charming film from Anna Muylaert that focuses on Val, the indispensable housekeeper of a wealthy São Paulo family – brilliantly played by Regina Casé – who's been like a second mother to the now teenage Fabinho (Michel Joelsas). His biological mother Bárbara (Karine Teles) is technically present, albeit aloof and clueless, with Val the primary point of maternal care and pride, and Fabinho soaking up her attention like a sponge.
The kicker is that Val has abandoned her own family to care for theirs and when her estranged daughter Jéssica (an excellent Camila Márdila) comes to stay, this disobedient, questioning young woman shakes things up. She refuses to play by the established rules or stay in 'her place', installing herself in the immaculately kept guest-room, snacking on family-only treats, sizing-up the peer who has stolen her mother's affection, and recklessly fraternising with Fabinho's bored painter father Carlos (comic book artist Lourenço Mutarelli).
Jéssica's mischief quickly and devastatingly exposes the flaws and hypocrisies of the household – their bone-idleness and the loveless nature of the parents' marriage – while her intelligence, work ethic and ambition cause her to show up the complacent, possibly dim-witted Fabinho when they both take college entrance exams. Her transgressive behaviour also proves infectious, forcing Val to confront her own blind acceptance of the status quo.
The terrifically effective premise allows for great humour and pin-sharp yet light-touch social commentary, and Val is a character to cherish. This wonderful film recalls the middle-aged misbehaviour of other recent South American gems Gloria and The Maid, and there's even a touch of Pedro Almodóvar in the borderline caricatures and domestic melodrama, with Muylaert thrilling in the conspiratorial antics and affectionate relationships of the staff. It's a work of great warmth, formidable insight and irresistible rebellion.
Selected release from Fri 4 Sep.