Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Movie with Abe: The Second Mother

The Second Mother
Directed by Anna Muylaert
Released August 28, 2015

Class differences can be a complicated thing, especially if not everyone is on the same page about exactly where they stand in the world. This can be particularly tricky in a workplace setting, where one person’s sense of subservience is not matched or felt by another person. In “The Second Mother,” a live-in maid at a wealthy home finds her universe deeply disrupted when her daughter moves in to her room and fails to grasp the role she should inhabit, presenting an uncomfortable and often entertaining look at people existing in the same space with vastly different ideas of the world around them.

Val (Regina Casé) is introduced as a woman fully committed to her job, someone who goes above and beyond to cultivate deep, caring relationships with those she works for, treating them like family. The dynamics that she has with the three other inhabitants of the house vary, as patriarch Carlos (Lourenço Mutarelli) speaks rarely but is courteous enough, matriarch Barbara (Karine Teles) is relatively matter-of-fact and commanding, and Fabinho (Michel Joelsas) is close enough to her to climb into bed with her as a teenager when he can’t sleep. Val sees these roles as ordained and never thinks about anything being unjust or changing.

The arrival of Val’s headstrong daughter Jessica (Camila Mardila) shakes things up in a major way, one that transforms Val from a background object consistently and reliably doing her job to a much more visible element. Jessica’s presumptiveness finds her acting more like a guest than someone who should be grateful to her hosts for letting her live with them temporarily, something that makes Val extremely uncomfortable. Carlos and Fabinho obliviously egging Jessica on doesn’t help matters at all, infuriating Barbara and turning an awkward situation into something much more volatile.

This film, which was selected by Brazil as its official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film this year, is a goodhearted picture of society that isn’t unique to its country. Casé is the center of the film, anchoring it with her portrayal of a docile worker who gives much of herself without receiving anything concrete back. Mardila’s performance helps to draw out that relationship and paint these characters as layered women whose lack of a solid connection only contributes to their bond when thrown together in someone else’s house. This film may not be satisfying or fully comfortable, but it’s definitely an enjoyable snapshot with a knowing and intelligent tone.


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