Some films are important because they are groundbreaking, inaugurate a genre, or create new storytelling techniques. Some are even more important because they are priceless historical sources. Anna Muylaert’s The Second Mother falls in the second category, being a perfect document to analyze the clash of powers and the social tension that was on the rise just before the political crisis that hit Brazil in 2016.
Val, our leading lady, is a common figure: a woman from the Northeast region that went to the Southeast and worked raising someone else’s son while her own daughter was left behind. Her role as a second mother is seen in the original title, Que horas ela volta?, or When does she come back?, something the boy asks about his real absent mother.
When Val’s daughter Jessica comes to São Paulo to take a college admittance exam, conflict is introduced in the family dynamics the same way the enriched lower class brought conflict that became unbearable in 2014: in Brazil, upper and middle classes don’t like to see the lower class escape poverty and have the same opportunities—and this is the conflict in the heart of the movie.
The Second Mother creates a microcosm in which we can see the battle between left (the housekeeper and her liberal daughter) and right (the conservative family that wants to maintain the status quo). This battle resulted in the impeachment of the first female president of Brazil in 2016 and was vital for the more recent turn to fascism in the 2018 elections.
For a foreign audience, many habits are shocking, for instance the unspoken social apartheid housekeepers in particular and the working class in general face and accept. That’s why the symbols are so important in this unique political film. Among them, the pool – a forbidden territory for the housekeeper and her daughter – and the fancy ice cream that can’t be shared with them are the most powerful symbols.
The Second Mother is about social change and resistance against it. In the future, when other movies will be analyzed by its technical achievements, The Second Mother will be analyzed by its perfect portrait of Brazilian society in the mid-2010s.
The Second Mother / Que horas ela volta? Official Website
The Second Mother / Que horas ela volta? on Facebook (Portuguese)
Director Anna Muylaert on Twitter
Actress Regina Casé Official Website (in Portuguese and English)