The Second Mother

Sep 25, 2015 by Pedro Lopez DeVictoria on The Nickelodeon Blog

There is never a good reason to allow yourself to remain stagnant. Settling into static passivity, though a comfortable respite from chaos, only prepares you for the truly comfortable respite of a casket. “The Second Mother” carries with it this endless skirmish–tradition vs progression, implicit roles vs egalitarian fluidity–and the comfortable schemas discover their vulnerabilities through the loving thrill of letting go. Val, played with expressive warmth by Regina Casé, is a housekeeper in the home of an affluent São Paulo family, whom we join just as her discontentment arrives in the vessel of her estranged daughter, visiting after 10 years apart. The role of housekeeper is one that Val adheres to with a dogmatic reverence, resulting in equally shocked disbelief at her daughter’s acts of sacrilege: sleeping in the guest bed, swimming in the pool, fraternizing with the family, and generally subverting the norms that have ruled Val’s life in their decade apart.

poolThe rest of the family becomes unravelled–a faded and defanged father whose comfortable wealth has made him a bed potato suddenly has to exist, the petty matriarch, a vapid fashionista, must reluctantly defend her pride with reaffirmations of her superiority, and the son, whose loving connection to Val calls into question to whom the title refers, finds a complicating romance.

Watching these roles dance and collide makes this Brazilian dramedy much more like a modern documentary about people who accidentally play out an old Victorian play–rife with mistiming, social satire, class divisions, and even a modicum of slap-stick to round it out. The timelessness of these conflicts lends itself to the heart with which these characters sigh and dance anyway. Because, as I’m sure director Anna Muylaert directed them to, the characters know the obvious dynamics at play here, and the inevitability of their roles’ dissolution, but they seem to embrace, perform, yell, and fight along regardless–somewhat of a reveling. And we, the audience, can revel along. Because at its core, these stories teach us to find those dead and endless traditions in our lives with a critical eye, and, every now and then, dip our toes into forbidden pools.

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