THE SECOND MOTHER/ QUE HORAS ELA VOLTA, Brazil, 2015. Starring Regina Case, Camilla Mardila, Karine Teles, Michel Joelsas. Directed by Anna Muylaert. 112 minutes. Rated M (Coarse Language)
The Second Mother is Val, Regina Case, a middle-aged woman who acts as servant in the house of a very wealthy family in San Paolo.
The English title focuses on the mother while the original Brazilian title talks about the time when she will return. This means that the film serves as an introduction to contemporary Brazilian society, audiences observing how similar the way of life is in San Paolo to so many other cities around the world.
But, the difference the film wants to emphasise is that of servants, masters and mistresses, the issue of class.
Val has had a hard life, separating from her husband, having to leave her daughter, Jessica, with her father and his partner, sending money to support her, sometimes bringing gifts, experiencing long years with no contact from her daughter. Val has absorbed the ethos of being a servant. She takes it for granted, obeying her rather haughty mistress, looking after the rather quiet and ineffectual master, lavishing all her capacity for love on their son, from his time as a little boy over 10 years to his adolescence, his finishing his secondary education and his sitting for university entrance exams.
Val is quite likeable but even we wish she would not be so subservient, where nothing is too much trouble, a collage of detail all the work that she does around the house, the menial jobs, the cooking and serving, just being at the ready for whatever is asked of her.Her daughter, Jessica, does make contact arranging to meet her mother at the airport but not wanting to go to stay where Val lives. We know that there is going to be some conflict. Jessica seems to be very self-possessed, and not wanting to take any patronising or humiliating attitudes and behaviour from the wealthy family. She resents her mother doing this kind of work and is really upset at one stage when she feels her mother does not defend her against the criticisms of the family.
In the middle of the film, especially when the mother is injured in an accident which bring on various tantrums, one is tempted to say that they all deserve what they get.
However, this is a very women-oriented film, from the writer-director, to Val herself, to Jessica, to the mother – with the men, like Val’s husband, off-screen, or the father of the household taking to his bed and, quietly and desperately proposing to Jessica. The son will go out on his own (pleasingly, to Australia for six months) but he has been molly-coddled by Val and her affection and the interprets his mother’s lack of feeling and disdain to her thinking he was a dumb. Val has really been his first mother rather than his second mother.
When a new piece of information is given about 15 minutes before the end, we can well guess what is about to happen – and it does.
Many audiences have responded feeling me to Val and her life as well as to interest in Brazilian society and issues of class.