Val spends 13 years working as nanny to Fabinho in São Paulo. She is financially stable but has to live with the guilt of having left her daughter Jéssica, in Pernambuco, in the northeast of Brazil, raised by relatives. As college entrance exams roll around, Jéssica wants to come to São Paulo to take her college entrance exams too. When Jéssica arrives, cohabitation is not easy. Everyone will be affected by the personality and candor of the girl and Val finds herself right in the middle of it.
For those of us who have known nannies, the easiest generalization we can make is it's too bad she can't be with her own children. Well. Anna Muylaert's Brazilian film, The Second Mother, shows what happens when nanny-housekeeper Val (Regina Case) in an upper-class Sao Paulo home has her estranged, grown daughter, Jessica (Camila Mardila), stay with her before Jessica takes her college exams.
The disappointment Jessica feels about her mother's subservient life seems natural enough given Jessica's ambition to be an architect. The real conflict is within Val's heart where Jess's openness with the family Val serves and their embracing her as an equal can't abide Val's lifetime of service, which teaches never to intrude, never assume a place at their table, never swim in their pool. All of which Jess gleefully does.
The remarkable character of this film is how it reflects the points of views of mom and daughter without judging the appropriateness of either position. Jess is often described as being snobbish and Val too easily cowed by the family. The film's generous heart allows enough time for each of the principals to grow in understanding the other.
The Second Mother spends too little time on the interpersonal relationships and ends without solid resolution of the characters' differences. What neither mom nor daughter seems to get is that the stark class divide in Brazil brooks no exceptions; in effect, Val will be stuck here for the rest of her life, and Jess will escape through education. The film seems to suggest that the upper-class Val serves is impenetrable except through marriage or education.
"Why do elites hate the poor? It's xenophobia. They don't know any poor people - except their off-the-books Brazilian nanny and illegal immigrant cleaning lady from Upper Revolta who don't speak English." P. J. O'Rourke
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