One of the most accomplished, sure-handed films of the Sundance Film Festival, “The Second Mother” is straightforward, socially aware and deeply rooted, not only in
Brazilian but in world society class structures. That it It is also deeply rooted within the psyches of the actors and the director is what makes it so
powerfully effective upon the audience.
Writer-director Anna Muylaert wrote the first version of this movie twenty years ago when she had her first child. It was called “The Kitchen Door” and was
a magical realism story of a domestic servant who was a magician in her own village who could read the future of people
Twenty years ago when she had her first child, “normal” meant you brought in a nanny to care for your child and do all the housework. Anna was working and
her boss assured her she would barely be able to manage three months at home when Anna informed her that she planned to take a year off to care for her
Her circle of friends was also aghast at the idea of her doing everything for her child AND cooking dinner for them as guests. They persuaded her to bring
in help at least twice a week. When the help came and told her to go relax, and closed the door on her, she began to write this script. For a year she had
stayed at home to care for her child and during that time she had written books for television which earned her enough money to buy the house next door
which became her office.
For herself, the idea of having a full time caretaker was confusing. When she was seven, her family hired a nanny. Anna recalled that at her school she was
told to draw a picture of her family and she didn’t know whether or not to include the nanny in the picture. Her younger sister was three and was so
attached to the nanny that she is now the nanny of her children.
When Anna was 20 and moved out of her home, she realized she didn’t know how to keep house, to clean, to cook, to do anything on her own. How stupid the
middle and upper classes were, knowing nothing about life. She realized the power of the poor who knew how to cope with their own as well as their
Nineteen years after having her first child she returned to this script. Brazil had changed by this time. Brazil elected a president from the Workers
Party. Labor laws were enacted that practically eradicated live-in labor. Maids no longer lived at their bosses’ home because labor laws required paying
Anna sat down and rewrote the script just as it was going into production. She made the nanny’s daughter Jennifer, noble and strong enough to stand up to
separatist social rules, throwbacks to the colonial past. She is full of curiosity and force of will, and she demands her due, her citizen rights. She
offers a character model, a role model to be discussed after watching the movie. Anna considers her a super hero.
Val is a live-in housekeeper who takes her work seriously. She wears a crisp maid’s uniform while serving perfect canapés; she serves her wealthy Sao Paolo
employers day in and day out while lovingly nannying their teenage son whom she raised since toddlerhood. In order to do this to earn a living, she had to
leave her own child in others’ hands.
Everyone and everything in the elegant house has its place until one day, Val’s ambitious, clever daughter Jessica arrives from Val’s hometown to take the
college entrance exams. Jessica’s confident, youthful presence upsets the unspoken yet strict balance of power in the household; Val must decide where her
allegiances lie and what she’s willing to sacrifice.
Val herself has an inner strength which reveals itself in the course of the movie. In real life, this actress, Regina Case, is very strong, very
influential, famous and wealthy. With a career of more than forty years, she is known for her work on stage, film and television. She is one of the most
important artistic talents in Brazil today. She will soon be seen in the upcoming Emmanuel Benbihy franchise, “Rio, I Love You.”
She produces For
television and has a huge television following on TV Globo’s “Esquenta!” which brings popular cultural personalities to the public. As an actress, she is
like an anthropological museum, says Anna. She can display the characteristics of every sort of human being, recreating their gestures and personae exactly
from a lifetime of research and re-creation.
When Anna directs, she likes the actors to suggest variations to the scripted words. Shooting digitally makes this even easier, and in this regard, the
actors help write the script. Regina, with her broad range of experience and her own great reservoir of talent was a great resource.
I asked Anna what were her favorite films that she had directed. After some thought she said her first film, “Durval Discos” (2002) and this one. “The
Second Mother” is more mature and a result of years of struggle. It has great actors and the cinematography by Uruguayan DP, Barbara Alvarez_ (“Whisky“)
has created a particular look. The songs are also special. The crew worked very well together and the producers, brothers Caio and Fabiano Gullane, Débora
Ivanov and Gabriel Lacerda were great. Caio worked with her on her last film, “Chomado a cobrar,” as well. Gullane produced “A Wolf at the Door” and
It was not at all easy making this film. The star was so big; she is very critical and very forceful. But everyone was giving their best. She herself was
totally devoted to the film for nine months, from July 2013 when she rewrote it to its completion in March 2014.
Anna’s next film has been shot in November and December of 2014. She will go to the Berlinale where The Match Factory will offer it in the market and then
home to rest for ten days before editing it. Its title, coincidentally is “There’s Only One Mother“. It’s about two teenagers who don’t know each other…the
same actress plays both their mothers.
Perhaps we will see the new film in Cannes 2015.