Paul Ridd, London Cinemas and Acquisitions Coordinator at Picturehouse Cinemas and programmer of Discover Tuesdays, previews this week’s presentation.
The Second Mother (15)
Director: Anna Muylaert.
Starring: Regina Casé, Camilla Márdila, Michel Joelsas. Brazil 2014. 112 mins. Portuguese with English subtitles.
Sharing some intriguing similarities with Chilean festival hit Gloria in its depiction of a strong middle-aged woman in crisis, Anna Muylaert’s gentle but shrewdly observed Brazilian character study centres on loyal housemaid Val (Regina Casé, who co-wrote the film with Muylaert), who works in a lavish Rio town house for a wealthy family.
First seen going about the gruelling housework with grace and humour, Val displays warmth and tenderness towards her colleagues and also towards her bosses: spoilt matriarch Bárbara (Karine Teles) and timid husband Carlos (Lourenço Mutarelli). She serves as the titular ‘second mother’ to the neglected teenaged son of the household Fabinho (Michel Joelsas), massaging and comforting him, even letting him share her bed at night.
Val’s place in the social order is nonetheless shown to be entirely subordinate, a role perfectly visually encapsulated by a long tracking shot which follows her around a busy, fashionable party as she serves hors d’oeuvres and is thoroughly ignored by guests and family alike.
This order is disturbed however by the arrival of Val’s outspoken and attractive daughter Jéssica (Camila Márdila), a powerful young woman who immediately charms the men of the household and blankly insists on moving into the prized guest room, despite Val’s protestations and embarrassment at what she perceives as her daughter’s impropriety and impudence.
Val’s comfortable but slavish routine is disrupted as Jéssica questions Val’s deference to the family and is pursued by the men of the household – particularly Carlos whose attempts to seduce her provide the funniest scenes in the film.
Muylaert’s film is an intimate study of this older woman and the complex relationship she forges with an all but estranged daughter, as well as a brilliantly observed study of class divides still present in Brazilian society. It ends on a surprisingly upbeat note, with Val finally taking a stand against the hypocrisy of her position and waking up to the possibility of a new life with her daughter.
Driven by beautifully naturalistic performances and quietly complex cinematography which takes great care to frame Val always at the margins of the domestic spaces she manages, The Second Mother is as economical as it is warm. It leaves us with a profound sense of a fully realised character and an unusual sense of optimism for a socially conscious film of this nature.
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