Contemporary São Paulo is the setting for Anna Muylaert’s “The Second Mother” (Que Horas Ela Volta?), a warm, simple, soon complicated, and in the end, often comic and sometimes moving contemplation of what “family” means in a modern world. Is household help part of the household? Let alone the family, as an unacknowledged surrogate mother? (“Upstairs Downstairs” looks like an appealing title in Portuguese: “Escada Acima Escada Abaixo,” but “The Second Mother” will do just fine.) As the housekeeper to an upper-class family with a teenage son, comedienne Regina Casé is vital and present in every moment, especially the minuscule and picayune humiliations that have compounded for years. But she is especially fine when her own nineteen-year-old daughter (Camila Márdila), whom she supports by being a nanny-mother-drudge, comes to visit. Class-consciousness is first and foremost in each emotional and comic moment to come. While Muylaert contemplated the project for twenty years, she has a succinct summation of what she’s put on screen: “Can there really be an upbringing without affection? Can affection be bought? And, if so, at what price?” (The price? Humanity.) 114m. (Ray Pride)
“The Second Mother” opens Friday, September 18 at the Music Box. The trailer is below.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.