Friday, July 3, 2015

The Second Mother: A Younger Rebel Latina Generation Leads The Way


While class conflict is nothing new in movies, though more often than not the perpetual elephant in the room, rarely have stories explored class differences that can play out as well beyond the human family itself, in actual families. Which infuses the Brazilian social satire The Second Mother with fresh and flaky charm, when not an alternately brutal candor and a fiercely crafted narrative glow.

Written and directed by Anna Muylaert (The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, the bittersweet reverie of radicals-on-the-run from Brazil's former military dictatorship), The Second Mother presents the all too familiar predicament of workingclass women under capitalism. Who are forced by economic circumstances and the cruel absence of any social support system or safety net, to substantially abandon a nurturing and attentive role to their own children, in order for the family to economically survive by selling their labor on the indifferent marketplace. And in many cases, by assuming the role of surrogate mother to the children of an affluent family, as housekeeper.

In the case of The Second Mother, Val (Regina Case) is a middle aged provincial woman who left her daughter Jessica (Camila Mardila) in the care her estranged husband's new family far away a decade ago, in order find work as a live-in maid in Sao Paulo and send money back home to support her child. Jessica is now a high school graduate, and though long harboring bitter resentment towards her absentee mother, she sends word to Val that she will be arriving shortly to take college entrance exams in the city, and needs to live with her temporarily while doing so.

And though elated to see her daughter after so many years have passed, Val reluctantly agrees to this perceived imposition on her approving but imperiously condescending employer, Barbara (Karine Teles). Who though friendly to Val, can barely conceal her class disdain toward her hired help.

And when Jessica arrives and discovers to her disgust that despite her mother's sacrifices to support her and years of full time devotion to the demands of this other family, that Val has been rewarded for her services by being relegated to sleeping in a tiny airless basement room that she must now share with Jessica, let's just say the fun begins. Including Jessica defying all existing implicit class norms of absolute obedience, deference and deep seated divisions. As Jessica informs everyone that she prefers to eat at the family's table and sample their food instead, and stay in the unoccupied and far more elegant guest room rather than sleeping on the floor of her mother's horrendous cubicle.

And while her daughter's behavior and equal opportunity defiance initially render Val torn between her steadfast loyalty and alliance with this artificial family whose utterly socio-economic conditional affection is increasingly exposed, and yearning to mend a long broken relationship with Jessica, class consciousness does eventually crack those emotional barriers. Allowing a glowing light of liberation in metaphorical terms, to shine through.

And with Jessica representing an emerging, inspiring bold rebel youth rejecting the reactionary traditions thwarting the generations preceding them. And perhaps a new day for Brazil and a long oppressed and recently reinvigorated Latin America as well.

Prairie Miller

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