The Second Mother
Brazilian director Anna Muylaert’s fourth feature film is a socially conscious odyssey that examines such areas as class boundaries, family dysfunction and loneliness. In The Second Mother, the protagonist, Val, is a live-in caretaker for a wealthy family, who has left her daughter to start a new life in São Paulo and, over 13 years, has become a sort of ersatz-mother to the family’s son, Fabinho. Unspoken class barriers begin collapsing when Val’s daughter Jéssica comes to live with them.
For the most part, The Second Mother delivers on the acting front: the cast do a fantastic job of delivering extremely naturalistic dialogue to make it feel like a glance into the life of a real family. At times, some of the characters do feel like caricatures of certain stereotypes, but a depth is added to each person by the end of the film that make them seem considerably more human in nature. Each actor conveys a quiet loneliness to their character that really illustrates how disparate each of them are from one another – Carlos’ sullen acceptance of his wife’s desire to drain the pool identifies his unhappiness exquisitely. However, it must also be added that the character Jéssica comes across as irritatingly self-centred, which could be a result of Camila Márdila’s portrayal of the young woman, who seems to have gone more for the edgy teen approach than the enviably free-natured approach.
Muylaert handles the broad social themes of the film with intriguing simplicity; The Second Mother is a story of simple people, with simple problems that culminate in simple – albeit predictable – emotional discoveries. Val’s inevitable realisation that she does not have to adhere to class boundaries is not a bold story-telling technique by any means, but it is devastatingly effective. The cathartic moment of a grown woman splashing about in a pool is matched with a poignant piano piece that, whilst very fitting, seems more like emotional blackmail than a necessary component of the scene.
The greatest thing about The Second Mother is that its themes transcend cultural values, and the film is accessible to people in all different parts of the world, not just Brazil. Lots of people understand the class issues that their countries face, and everyone has known what it’s like to be lonely at least one point in their life.
The Second Mother is released nationwide on 15th September 2015.
Watch the trailer for The Second Mother here: