Sunday, January 10, 2016

movie review: The Second Mother [Que Horas Ela Volta?]

The Second Mother (original title: Que Horas Ela Volta?
(Brazil, 2015) 
written and directed by Anna Muylaert

The "second mother" of the movie's English title is Val (Regina Casé) , a live-in housekeeper, cook and nanny for a wealthy family in São Paolo. She has practically raised the son of the family, Fabinho (Michel Joelsas), and he confides his happinesses and his sadnesses to her as though she is his "second mother," often preferring her to his biological mother, Bárbara (Karine Teles), or his father, Carlos (Lourenço Mutarelli). However, Val is also in many ways only a "second mother" to her own biological daughter, Jéssica (Camila Mardilá), whom she left back home in her rural village. Val has sent money back home for over ten years to the friend raising Jéssica, while she has essentially raised another family's son.

However, one day Val receives a phone call she has been wishing for: Jéssica wants to come to São Paulo to live with her mother and take the university entrance exams. She intends to apply to FAU, a very prestigious design and architecture college. Val asks her employers if it is all right that her daughter joins her for a while, and they agree amiably enough, saying that Val is very important to them, and by extension, so is Jéssica.

However, upon arrival, it becomes clear that although Val is willing to hew to the unspoken rules that govern her relationship with her employers, Jéssica has no notion of what those rules might be, and worse yet, does not care to follow the ones she is told about. Unsurprisingly, this causes tension for everyone. At one point, Val tells her daughter in exasperation, "You think you're better than everyone else!" Jéssica replies, "No, I don't. I just don't think I'm worse than anyone else." Jéssica's arrival disrupts everyone, and she is the catalyst for some uncomfortable soul searching on the part of the three adults.

Director Anna Muylaert creates scenes with a light hand, often using humour that underscores the tension that runs right below the surface. She cleverly leads the audience to suspect one thing is going to happen, then surprises by defying our expectations. She also makes good use of cinematographic techniques like static shots (but not overusing them so that the film feels gimmicky). The actors are also superb, particularly Casé and Mardilá. They provide a moving and convincing portrayal of a mother and daughter who mean a lot to each other, but have been estranged for a long time, with all the baggage that creates.

Although The Second Mother is fairly long (112 minutes), I found myself absorbed by the story the entire time. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

Mark Landmann said...

Sounds great!