The Second Mother is set in Sao Paulo, where Arcade Fire is referred to as “The Arcade Fire”. The story follows the eponymous character Val, a housekeeper for a considerably wealthy family, and it’s not an understatement to say her job has become her life. When her daughter Jessica flies into town, the duo end up staying in the house. The main conflict herein is Val’s struggle to identify with a daughter she never quite got to raise. At one point she even relies upon the opinion of the family’s son to get a sense of what her own daughter is like.
Now this is a mostly quiet picture. Music is scarce, and camera angles slowly move if they aren’t static. Scenes within the house are almost claustrophobic due to how these angles repeat themselves throughout, mirroring the routine of Val’s life. Aside from one sequence set in a high-rise, the surrounding city is never really explored (except for that it rains a lot). But these elements make the film contained, focused, and even intimate in its storytelling.
Regina Casé shines in the lead role. She is a graceful presence as an immediately empathetic and cordial character.
It must be said, Regina Casé shines in the lead role. She is a graceful presence as an immediately empathetic and cordial character. Val is visibly frustrated by her position – she overthinks how to organize a new coffee table set, is bothered by the family dog, and can’t seem to stop Jessica from eating the family’s chocolate ice cream. Everybody in The Second Mother seems perpetually frustrated and vicariously argumentative. This feeds what is most interesting here: the dynamics and dialogues between characters.
This is a film primarily about thickness of bonds, how we concern ourselves with the opinions and approvals of those outside our family, and how they seem to mean more when they are earned. The family’s son reaches out to his second mother over his first for this reason. But the film is moreover a character study about Val’s shortcomings as a first mother herself. That said, while the movie is more dramatic than comedic, it has a natural levity that lends itself to a something deeply felt but also feel-good.
The Second Mother opens this Friday in select Los Angeles theaters.