In Anna Muylaert’s The Second Mother, the socioeconomic differences come into play from the perspective of Val (Regina Casé), who works for a wealthy and prominent family in São Paulo, Brazil. Having left her own family behind, Val is predominantly responsible for raising Fabinho (Michel Joelsas), the son of Val’s employers Bárbara (Karine Teles) and Carlos (Lourenço Mutarelli). Val is very grateful for her job and takes pride in her work, knowing where she stands and where her place is among her upper class employers. It’s something her daughter Jéssica (Camila Márdila) can’t fathom, believing her mother is being treated like a second-class citizen.
Val thinks it’s because Jéssica is young, brash and too smart, but when defending against her mother’s argument that she thinks herself better, Jéssica’s reply of, “No, I just don’t think I’m worse,” speaks volumes about the differences in their thinking about class separation. When Jéssica moves to São Paulo and back into her estranged mother’s life, tensions rise between her and Bárbara who, although she allows Jéssica to stay, is not at all pleased with the younger woman’s inability to stay behind the invisible socioeconomic line.
Writer and director Anna Muylaert’s film is filled with symbolism and non-subtle conversations about economic differentiation, but they’re never with the opposing sides. The pool, pristine and full of sparkling water, is an apparent symbol of wealth and upper-scale living. It also serves as the symbol of where the line is drawn between the owners of the house and Val and her daughter. It’s peculiar that Bárbara is the one most ruffled and threatened by Jéssica’s presence, the latter’s ideals and ambitions the same as the former’s son. But perhaps it’s not so peculiar as it is disturbing that she finds someone half her age so threatening. Because with an education and opportunity, there is no separation and Muylaert does a fantastic job in presenting these issues and building the tension.
The Second Mother doesn’t look to solve the socioeconomic gap, but rather paints a very vivid picture of the senselessness behind it all. It’s an intriguing and well-executed story from the perspective of the underprivileged characters. And while Bárbara is busy stewing in her unadulterated hatred, her husband seeks to become closer to Jéssica because of the blatant lack of love in his life and Fabinho is perfectly content with being loved by Val, who treats him with more love than his own mother, though she does try really hard. The film is very female-driven, boasts great performances, and is able to build the tension and present the issues, even though it never really reaches a truly distinct resolution. The mind sets of the lead characters are unique and founded in their experiences, with some thought-provoking, but not unheard of, arguments. An overall solid film.