In real life, the well-to-do have servants to help them count their money, weigh gold bullion, and keep the other servants in line. In the movies, the rich also have domestic help – but in films like The Servant (1963) and La Nana (The Maid, 2009), the ‘help’ quite often turns out to as much hindrance as anything else. Such is also the case in Que Horas Ela Volta? (The Second Mother), a Brazilian drama (albeit, with faint comedic overtones) opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Sept. 4.
Val (Regina Casé) serves as the live-in maid for trend-setting São Paulo stylist Bárbara (Karine Teles). While Bárbara is the one getting the television interviews and magazine spreads, her low-key husband Dr. Carlos (Lourenço Mutarelli) is the real power behind the throne, having inherited an impressive sum from his late father. What Carlos wants, he gets – sometimes much to Bárbara’s chagrin.
In addition to her daily duties, Val has also been a ‘second mother’ for Bárbara and Carlos’ teenage son Fabinho (Michel Joelsas), a lazy slacker who wastes his time smoking pot and hanging out with his idiot friend Skull when he should be studying for his university entrance exams. Because of Bárbara’s jet-setting lifestyle, Val has all but raised Fabinho herself, while the distant Carlos hardly seems to have been a factor in his son’s upbringing.
A surprise phone call turns things topsy-turvy when Val’s estranged daughter Jéssica (Camila Márdila) announces her intention to move to São Paulo in order to apply to a prestigious architectural school. Val is excited to learn she’s going to be reunited with her long unseen child, who’s been raised by relatives, but once Jéssica arrives she discovers her daughter has developed an independent streak that threatens to upend the household’s carefully calibrated master-servant relationships.
It’s a recipe for disaster, and things soon come to a head when Jéssica — egged on by the impulsive Carlos — decides to take up residence in the mansion’s capacious guest room, while Val must continue to get by in the less than luxurious servants’ quarters.
It soon becomes clear that there are more than two ‘second mothers’ in The Second Mother. Val has raised Fabinho; Jessica has been raised by a distant relative; and – well, I won’t give away the identity of the film’s third second mother (or her relationship to all the other ‘second mothers’), but there’s at least one more in the film. (Who knows, I might have blinked and missed a fourth one.)
Written and directed by São Paulo native Anna Muylaert, The Second Mother’s foundation is built on sterling performances from Casé and Márdila, who make a terrific tag-team whenever they’re on screen together – which, thankfully, is often. The rest of the cast don’t embarrass themselves either, with Mutarelli particularly notable as the almost invisible man of the house.
Withal, this is rather a rum beast: a film most critics will consider a drama, but with a notably dry sense of humor that will have many viewers smiling wryly and chuckling under their breath — especially if they’re parents of adult children.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.
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