If you’re a foreign movie enthusiast, you probably heard about “The Second Mother” this past year. I’m from Brazil, and the movie was really big around here, especially as it was our biggest chance at getting a nomination on the Foreign Film category at the Oscar’s. Though the movie did not make the cut, the discussions it sparked were extremely relevant, and I thought talking about them in this review would help you get a better understanding of the film!
“The Second Mother” was written and directed by Anna Muylaert , and follows the story of Val, a woman that works as a housekeeper for a rich family, and her daughter Jéssica, who comes to live with the family and starts questioning the class barriers that exist in the household. Here, in Brazil, it’s very common for middle class families to have housekeepers that clean the house and do other chores at least once a week, while upper class families sometimes have multiple housekeepers that are in the house every single day. This is, of course, a result of the extreme social inequality Brazil still faces today, and people from more developed countries are usually stunned by this. Val had to leave her daughter Jéssica as a young child to move cities and work as a housekeeper. There, she became a second mother to Fabinho, the family’s son, but had to sacrifice seeing her own daughter growing up in order to provide her with a better life. This is a very common occurrence here in Brazil, but I’d never seen a movie deal with it in such an honest and thought provoking way. After seeing the movie, I was able to identify so many situations that happen in my own life as an upper-middle class citizen, and though they were not as exaggerated as the ones portrayed in the film, it was enough to make me embarrassed and cause me to rethink a lot of things.
One of the big conflicts in the film is when Jéssica mentions that she’s trying to get into the same university as Fabinho. This is important because here in Brazil, to get into a university you have to take an exam called Vestibular, which is divided in two phases, and you have to answer questions pertaining to every school subject no matter what your intended major is. People who go to private high schools, like Fabinho, tend to do better in these exams and manage to get into public universities, which are considered the best. People who go to public schools, like Jéssica, usually have a hard time doing these exams because public high schools, as a rule, are not very high quality. You can probably understand how wrong it is that you have to be able to afford a private high school in order to study in a public university, but the family’s resentment over Jéssica getting a better score in the exam than Fabinho is very realistic, and reflects how the upper and middle classes in Brazil feel when people from the lower classes start going to places where, historically, they were never able to go.
I wasn’t able to watch this movie in theaters, but people who did mentioned that a lot of moviegoers reprimanded Jéssica for her outspoken behavior, not realizing that that was the very thing the movie was attempting to criticize. Her behavior would be acceptable if she were a part of the rich family, but because she came from a lower class, she was expected to be quiet and to not question the social structures that were in place.
I don’t want to get too spoiler-y here, but I highly recommend that you watch this movie (which is available on torrent under its original title, “Que Horas Ela Volta?”) and leave your comments here so we can keep the discussion going! Along with “The Way He Looks” (which I’ll review soon), I believe that “The Second Mother” is one of the best films Brazil has produced in the last few years, and shows that we can make high quality movies that aren’t just about violence and the favela.
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