The Second Mother

The Second Mother photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe Second Mother is the story of Val (Regina Casé), a maid who works in São Paulo. She has been the live-in housekeeper/nanny for the same family for over a decade. They are father (Lourenço Mutarelli), mother (Karine Teles) and son Fabinho (Michel Joelsas).  Val has a daughter herself named Jessica (Camila Márdila), whom she hasn’t seen in 13 years. Left in the care of relatives back in their small village in Pernambuco, Val has been sending money all these years so her daughter can have a better life and education. Then one day, Jessica decides to come stay in São Paulo in order to take a university admissions exam. Living with Mom and her bosses creates problems.

The Second Mother is essentially a movie about relationships. Writer/director Anna Muylaert is particularly focused on the idea of motherhood. The Brazilian film was originally titled: Que Horas Ela Volta? which literally translates as “What time will she return?”  It’s a chronicle of this woman Val.  The affinity between the wealthy employer’s son who adores her is contradicted by her biological daughter Jessica who holds a grudge.  Their psychological divide is emphasized.  Val is a very humble woman who understands her “place”. Her newly arrived daughter however, does not. Sleeping arrangements, the swimming pool, and even some choice ice cream, all become a bone of contention. Jessica’s forceful, almost arrogant conduct sparks a mixed reaction from the various members of the household. They have always treated their housekeeper with respect, but unspoken class distinctions are brought to the fore as a result of Jessica’s behavior.

At the heart of The Second Mother is a warm, humorous, gently nuanced performance from Regina Casé, a veteran actress of the Brazilian stage and TV. Her daughter’s contemptuous attitude arises out of Jessica’s refusal to accept the social class disparity that separates her mother from her supervisors. Val’s exasperated protestations are amusing, but also quite reasonable. You sympathize with Val. There is a resilience and dignity to her within her deferential demeanor. Her strained relationship with her own daughter is contrasted with the beloved esteem to which her employers’ son, regards her.  And why shouldn’t he? Val raised him from a toddler to adolescence, while her biological offspring is but a stranger to her. Ironically Fabinho’s connection with his own mother is more distant. This slight, at times inconsequential drama, ambles along at a leisurely pace through a series of circumstances that underlie hierarchical social categories in South American life. The examination culminates more with a whimper than a bang, but the journey to get there is fairly interesting nonetheless.


4 Responses to “The Second Mother”

  1. Hey there Mark. Thought about checking this one out but have put it off in favor of some other bigger titles, i.e. The Green Inferno (which I might not even see now based on its score’s precipitous drop on the major sites), Everest and maybe Pawn Sacrifice. This sounds like a very solid Fri night rental though. I’ll keep an eye open for it


  2. I’ve heard good things about Regina Case’s performance in Second Mother, so even if it’s a slight, at times inconsequential drama, I’m interested in seeing it anyway. Plus I really like the concept of the conflict between Val and Jessica’s differing attitudes about class. I think there are some great opportunities for the film to comment on class with simple day-to-day scenarios.


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