The Second Mother (2015)
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Spent most of the time in an upper middle class mansion, the rooms it is also almost characters. From the kitchen to the guest room, the director gives meaning to the spaces, to the pool, to objects, to food. Veteran Regina Case plays Val, maid sleeping in the closet maid, knowing their place in the world, while the daughter, played by newcomer Camila Mardia, recently coming from the northeast to take entrance exams for architecture, it is a pioneering, a sentient , a citizen.
Award at the Berlin Film Festival and Sundance, What Time, surprisingly, is making blockbuster in European countries and pointed out by specialist as probable nominated for the Oscar. It's a cracker too, in my view, to reach the general public. I hope you get it. It is on my list of best films of the year and will be on the list of many influential critics around the world.
Couple of comments; this is the latest movie from noted Brazilian writer-director Anna Muylaert (a very Belgian name indeed). She has previously brought us "The Year My Parents Went On Vacation", among others. Here she looks at the class differences in Brazilian society, something that Brazilian cinema has a long history and track record in. There are a number of telling scenes in the movie, none more so (for me anyway) when Jessica tells the well-off family that she plans to take the notoriously difficult and selective FAU entrance exam. "This country is really changing" mutters the mother, in what could be a positive way, but really is a condescending tone. While the movie is billed as a drama, there are plenty of lighter moments in it as well, usually courtesy of Regina Case in the role of Val. The whole movie is on her shoulder, and she does is with a wink and a smile. As to the movie's US title, which departs significantly from the original title, you will see in the movie that there are several ways to interpret that. One minor negative is that the movie is a bit long for its own good. With some tighter editing, this could've been about 15 min. shorter without losing much. But in the end it's a minor quibble.
I saw this movie on what turned out to be the last day of its one week run at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. Not surprisingly, the early evening screening where I saw this at was not well attended. Maybe this will find a second life when it comes out on DVD. If you are in the mood for a top quality foreign movie that's short on 'action' but long on substance, you cannot go wrong with this, be it at the theater, on VOD or on DVD/Blu-ray. "The Second Mother" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
"Que Horas Ela Volta?" is a low-budget Brazilian film with an original story of class conflict and generation gap. Regina Casé has an outstanding performance in the role of a woman incapable to raise her own daughter since she needs to work as nanny of the son of her employers. She seeks redemption in the end expecting to raise her grandson. The cast is magnificent and the feeling of guilty of Val is easy to be understood. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Que Horas Ela Volta?" ("At What Time Does She Come Back?")
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
Even though the film does meander now and then – every scene with Regina Case as surrogate mother to her adopted household, especially the son, and the real mother of her daughter gives off an energy of feeling and vitality. It is beautiful to behold the radiation that emanates in all her scenes. And its' nice to walk out of a film with the milk of human kindness – a rarity these days.
However, her daughter is a modern free thinker and just does not get the social divide that separates her and her mother from these rich folk and the inevitable clashes start from the get go.
Now as a film on social commentary this is all straight forward and we don't really need to be told that money buys privilege. Whilst as a character piece it works a lot better with the various players establishing where they sit in the hierarchy of life and how that will affect those around them. It is a gentle film, not really a comedy, and will not tax you too much. Its original Portuguese title is "Que Horas Ela Volta?". Some have hailed this as a master piece and others have said it is pointless in that it brings nothing new. I found it to be enjoyable but not one I would rush out and buy – I rented this – but it's one that passes the time very agreeably and is far from being the land mark some have hailed it to be but is also far from being a lamentable waste of time.
The movie has a strong social message because is so close to the really, and so daily habits, we are used to social segregation in the same house, we forget it is so bad, and unfair with ourself. The movies leave us to think about basic things, for example, how different opportunities low and middle class has to access university, and how small habits can have a huge impact in the future.
The movies support his vision not in a philosophical phrases or beautiful quotes, but in reality, everything in the movie is so real and close to ourself that director don't need use Foucault or Marx text, he just show a mirror of the reality, and it is way this movies is about magical realism, but not realism magical. And it is why hurts.
Val is a housemaid for an upper-class family in São Paulo. She lives miles away from her daughter Jéssica, but the job allows her to provide for her which lessens the pangs of guilt at least somewhat. Val actually lives in the residence, works very hard and in the thirteen years that pass, she forms a motherly bond with the son, Fabinho. His actual mother, Bárbara, is very career-oriented, you see, so you can see why he latches onto Val. We see how Val is simultaneously well off, but not truly respected. She presents Bárbara with a gift: a set of cups with a black/white color pattern. Bárbara acts as if she's pleasantly surprised and tells Val they'll save it for a special occasion. Well, the special occasion arrives, a party. Val brings out the cups, but Bárbara berates her, having already forgotten Val gifted them to her. Then one day, Val gets a call from Jéssica who's looking to participate in the admission exam at the University of São Paulo. She'd need a place to stay. Val, of course, immediately agrees, but what Jéssica doesn't know is that Val takes her work home with her, so to speak. It turns out that Jéssica is very confident and smart and it immediately becomes clear her presence will shake up this upper-class residence quite a bit.
This being a film about class relations, it makes sense that this is the most stimulating aspect. It's funny to see this rich family's discomfort when the housemaid's daughter--of all people--appears more confident and smarter than Fabinho. Or note the similarities in expectations: Val works in almost slave-like fashion, but doesn't rebel, because she's been brought up with the notion that this is the way the world works. The rich family obviously holds similar opinions, otherwise they'd treat Val better. Another interesting thing to note is the role of the mother (the English title for the film is The Second Mother). Val hasn't been the mother to Jéssica she feels she should have been due to the literal distance between them. Then you've got Bárbara whose relationship with Fabinho is pretty much non-existent despite the fact they occupy the same living space.
The film almost risks falling into the familiar trap of showing the lower class folks to be real human beings as opposed to the upper class scumbags whose morals and decency have slowly eroded over the years in the pursuit of the almighty dollar (or peso), etc. While Val and Jéssica - and thus the 'lower class' - ultimately triumph, the overall portrayal of these characters remains nuanced and believable.
And that's how I'd describe the entire film: nuanced and believable. I do think Val's character development could've been paid more attention (particularly toward the end) and Jéssica could've been introduced a little sooner as that's when film really comes alive, but overall it's a good examination of class relations that doesn't get bogged down in melodrama.
Set in São Paolo, Brazil, The Second Mother (also known as Que Horas Ela Volta?) tells the story of Val, a hardworking & live-in housekeeper who has served her employers well for over a decade but has to live with the guilt of leaving her daughter behind. However, when Val's daughter decides to visit her, the existing class divide between the servants & their employers is thrown into disarray.
Written & directed by Anna Muylaert, The Second Mother doesn't take much time in setting up its plot and swiftly briefs us through Val's daily routine plus the trust she has garnered over the years. Muylaert's direction shows great composure, all characters exhibit a well defined arc, and while the plot brims with lots of heart & warmth, it's always ready to take a witty bite when opportunity surfaces.
Further enhancing the film's urban look n feel are its posh set pieces, bright colour tones & smooth camera-work when operating inside the house. Its 112 minutes of runtime unfolds like a breeze, the technical aspects are kept remarkably simple & wonderfully compliment the whole narrative, while the cast leaves no stone unturned to bring its interesting characters to life in a convincing manner.
Coming to the acting department, the best performance comes from Regina Casé for her work as Val is absolutely sensational & she's the one who keeps everything glued together. Camila Márdila plays Val's daughter whose arrival & disregard for existing social norms results in an invisible layer of uneasiness between the two mothers while the rest of the supporting cast ably play their given roles.
On an overall scale, The Second Mother is an enjoyable, entertaining & delightfully amusing tale of motherhood, social hierarchy & the roles each class is expected to play without being verbally told. Regina Casé's performance is the real highlight here but it doesn't mean that the input by others is underwhelming. Filled with meaty characters & never losing its funny edge, The Second Mother is definitely a pleasant surprise.
It is an interesting tale of class distinction told in a straight forward manner. The performances are solid from top to bottom. Perhaps the dog could have showed more interest as she was asleep or standing at the door to get off the set.
It's the kind of movie the critics will like. It subject matter doesn't feel raw enough for a major foreign language award nomination. It starts on the slow side and there are spots where the script had to rely on weather.
It's a small movie that will not get a broad distribution. Don't worry if you can't find it in a theater as it will play well on home formats.
The Boss Father: Inherited a lot of money from the parents, so he doesn't need to work and can be home leading a mediocre life smoking, eating ice cream and grudging on the fact he is a sh*t of an artist. Married to a fat pig and with a poor relationship with her, he tries to seduce the Maids daughter, adding another moral failure and misdeed to the infinite list of defeats in his life. Thin and weak as a moribund, you can only feel disdain for this pitiful character.
The Boss Mother : Fat and superficial, compensating the fact she is a whale with expensive clothing and life-style, surrounded by the Fashion media and social events about superficial sh*t. Terrible Mother, leaves her son to be looked after by the Maid. She suffers and have fits from lack of love and attention from her husband and son, making herself a victim, because she probably forgets she married rat for money and that she neglects her son since his birth. On the rare moments she is talking at dinner time with her teenage son, she advises him that he can smoke weed, because herself and her husband had smoked a lot of weed during their lives, but that he should "slow down" and don't smoke all day long. A good and generous employer in spite of everything described here.
The Boss Junior: Typical middle-class Brazilian teenager, smokes weed all day, doesn't study and is most concerned about his virginity and enjoying life. Fails on Exams for College, something which was already for granted due to his lifestyle. The parents, instead of teaching him a lesson and making him make up for his failure studying more, give him as a solace a Trip abroad to Australia so he can "study" there. The stupid teenager, after crying all the previous day long about his results on the Exams, all depressed in bed, appears smiling and excited about all the nice beaches he will meet in Australia. This method is very popular in Brazil, mainly on middle class, on teaching stupid teenagers how to deal with failures and consequence, and values on effort and reward.
Maid: Makes you rage in the first scenes of the Film when she returns the pot to Boss Junior and at the end, after quitting, when she steals the cups and coffee pot back (and laughs about it with her daughter - for Brazilians, stealing from those who have a bit more money than you, or your boss, is OK). Her personality shifts when her daughter starts living with her, and by end of the Film she passes the idea that she starts thinking being an employee is humiliating.
Daughter: Makes you range from the very first minute she shows up on the screen until the very end. She is abusive and has a distorted personality, leeching her mother and everyone around her, with no regard to her mother's job or the fact she was an intruder staying as a favour. She also 'innocently' enticed the Boss' desires by welcoming his proximity and favours. At the end of the Film she was the main reason her mother quit her job. In the end, both of them are unemployed and have a kid to take care of, but all they're worried about is having a cup of coffee and laughing about the stolen porcelain.
There are some insightful and comical characterizations. There are a couple of minor problems. Carlos asking Jessica to marry him is awkward. It's not funny although there is a point to it. I just think it could be done better. The other point is Val standing in the pool. It would have been a great moment to end the movie. The last section drags on and on. There is a story element that gives the movie poetic symmetry but in the whole, it's better to end it on a high. This is an interesting movie with interesting characters.
Not long into the film, it is unveiled that in order to work for this family, Val has left behind a family of her own, including her estranged daughter, Jéssica, with whom she has not spoken in a long time. Out of the blue, Val receives a call from Jéssica, who informs her mother that she will be visiting São Paolo in order to take a university placement exam. Val makes arrangements for her daughter to stay with her while she is in town and, though initially excited to meet Val's daughter, Val's employers become discontent when Jéssica refuses to accept her role as a "second-tier" individual. Contrary to their expectations, she openly eats at their table and does not stay confined to her mother's quarters. Instead, she sits at the main table and accepts meals and beverages from her mother's employer, Carlos. Carlos takes a romantic (and creepy) interest in Jéssica, allowing her to stay in the guest room instead of with Val. Without permission, Jéssica uses the pool, a privilege only the wealthy are supposed to have.
The breaking point of the film presents itself when Fabinho (the employers' son), who is the same age as Jéssica, does not get into the university, but Jéssica does. Bárbara (the patroness) refuses to accept Jéssica's rise—her disregard for the class system—and effectively kicks Jéssica out of her home. Though initially angry at Jéssica's reluctance to accept her social role, her mother Val eventually seems to come around to her disregard for classism, apparent toward the end of the film, when she joyously dances in her employers' half-empty pool.
On top of a great cast, this film is extremely well put-together and excels in its presentation and critique of this important social issue. As someone who grew up with immigrant, working-class parents, it is easy for me to relate to the struggles Jéssica faces as she grapples for acceptance.
The story-line of this film was not the only aspect of it which I enjoyed. Overall the acting, the political commentary, the cinematography and the emotional clarity of the movie drew me in. As a person from a place with very strict class distinctions and social rules to regulate interactions between classes, I found both Val's worries and Jéssica's hatred of the inequality she saw to be believable and relatable. If I were to pick any movie to show someone to introduce them to Latin American cinema, I would use this movie. It is a testament to the cinematographic abilities of Brazil and of its director Anna Muylaert.