THE SECOND MOTHER Review

the second mother

Director: Anna Muylaert

Genre: Drama

Release: 2015

Brazil’s foreign language film submission for the 88th Academy Awards is possibly the overlooked powder keg of 2015. Small, restrained and absolutely phenomenal in narrative construction from start to finish, THE SECOND MOTHER is uproariously funny and poignantly tragic in its depiction of the lives of live-in housekeepers.

Shot almost entirely inside the confines of an upper-class Sao Paolo home, THE SECOND MOTHER thrives off of its performances. Thanks to a star-turn from lead actress Regina Casé, the domestic drama tightly balances its comedy and drama, wearing its heart on its sleeve and never forgetting the complexities of the unspoken class barriers that exist within these homes.

the second mother age barriers

As well as the unspoken age barriers

What’s fascinating about Muylaert’s film is how expertly it has tackled a subject that has seemingly flown under filmmakers’ radars for decades now. Live-in housekeepers exist worldwide and the struggles they go through are universal and often identical, causing the destiny of Casé’s character to perfectly mirror the mannerisms, motivations and ambitions of housekeepers across the globe.

Her love for her employer’s son is only rivaled by that of her own daughter, and her devotion to taking up every maternal responsibility when the real parents fail allows for Casé to portray a beautiful individual who is never truly appreciated for who she is.

The cast is small, but the act breaks elegantly switch up the narrative tension with each new scene, allowing different characters to project their emotions onto one another. The arrival of Casé’s daughter, played by the charming, self-assured Camila Márdila, brings about subtle uproar within the domestic tension. But the film never falls victim to melodrama, which director Anna Muylaert cleverly avoids. Blocking is precise and characters placement in the frame cleverly indicates the things they think about one another.

the second mother crossfader spy

Spying on Crossfader headquarters

What’s brilliant about THE SECOND MOTHER’s writing is that love is continually at the forefront. Casé encapsulates all the traits of an admirable figure who’s clearly been dealt some tough cards in life. Finding her unsympathetic is completely impossible. Her love for her employer’s son is only rivaled by that of her own daughter, and her devotion to taking up every maternal responsibility when the real parents fail allows for Casé to portray a beautiful individual who is never truly appreciated for who she is.

This all ultimately pays off in THE SECOND MOTHER’s visual techniques, using everything from furniture to swimming pools as thematic indicators of where Casé stands regarding the class barrier that exists between her and her employers. The unmitigated love and honesty that she exudes towards everyone on screen manifests itself in how greatly she values items that her employers would preferably not even have in the home. THE SECOND MOTHER is a marvelous film and its attention to detail allows for its character interactions to flourish, presenting one of the most nuanced domestic dramas of 2015.

Verdict: Recommend

Sergio Zaciu

"When I make love, I realize eating steak was the preferable alternative." Sergio is the Crossfader Film Editor and a film connoisseur from Romania. He pretends to understand culinary culture enough to call himself an LA foodie, but he just can't manage to like scallops.

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