About 17 years ago, I've seen on court a trial by which a girl that had been raped and was seeking for the right to be legally represented by her neighbor. She had been brought from the North region by a couple that was vacationing there. Nobody knew her last name or exact age. Her parents were too poor to keep her, and so they allowed her to be raised by that couple. Some time after that, she had to run from their home after being raped by the guy and asked her older neighbor lady for help. The court had to decide if the neighbor could represent legally the young girl, despite not being a relative, because by our laws that would not be allowed.
What is this world?
Perverse structures can be naturalized on our daily lives in such a way that we are not even aware of them anymore - cases like that above are an important reminder of this perversity. Beyond that, movies are great to direct our attention to those evil traps that we shouldn't be able to justify by any means. The Second Mother (Que Horas Ela Volta?) does that with a careful eye and a scathing view. Val left her North hometown in order to find a job the would secure her daughter's maintenance. Send the daughter away or leave her behind, two extreme alternatives that no one would have to face.
The presence of the estranged daughter of a family's housekeeper exposes all the tiny perverse elements of this household. The stylish mother, the artistic father, the teen son have a very liberal speech: Val, the housekeeper, is family. They are so modern and understanding - it is a mask, of course, and I think that even them are perfectly aware of that. They welcome Val's daughter at their home with kind words and a big separating wall that are not visible to the eye, but that is very efficient to maintain everything on their "intended" place. Everything is (or looks like) roses until they realize that the girl won't condone the naturalized strong barriers underlying that place.
Every single member of that family is presents a kind of inappropriate behavior toward Jessica, the daughter. Disbelief that she is capable to ingress in a prestigious university; sexual harassment disguised as care; the patronizing treatment; the anger toward her nonconformism... everything is so revolting, and Anna Muylaert chose to lead us carefully into this scenario. At each scene, the picture gets bigger and scarier.
I've read one comment claiming that this movie defends that only poor people deserve to go to heaven. I think it is bullsh*t, despite the confrontation at some few scenes (I confess I was cheering at the ending). The rich family is a bit overly cliche in some aspects, it is true, but Jessica and Val are not victims at all - and that is one of the biggest triumphs in this movie. Jessica is strong, driven, intelligent, never conforming to what is expected of her socially. Despite the way she replicates her mother's fate in one important aspect, she is a proof that we can overcome our most ingrained features in order to achieve what we want to. She is also a living proof to her mother of how things can and must be different.
And the members of the employer family are not just stereotyped higher middle class. The way they think they're superior is very common in a lot of households not only here, but around the world. The ways of house employment can be different, but the superior behavior is not. Social unfairness is everywhere, each culture with its own. To point what is on the screen as something far way from the viewer is to turn our backs to how close this injustice is The Second Mother is a picture of this kind of silent cruel structure, and it is presented with respect and accuracy.
In this sense, I've also read about how perverse the Brazilian middle class is to allow such an unequal structure. "How those people still have housekeepers?", it is a frequent question. For me, that's not the main questioning here, though. Housekeeping is a dignified job. For me, dreadful is how people think that they can be superior to others so easily. I'm an employee, and I expect that my bosses treat me with respect and dignity. And this shouldn't be different in a household job.
Muylaert puts a mirror in front of us all, asking to denaturalize this kind of separation and prejudice, so settled on our social structures. And she does that through an honest story and solid performances, that tell how real and perverse is what we're seeing on the screen and around us.
|The Second Mother (Que Horas Ela Volta?). Directed and written by Anna|
Muylaert. With: Regina Casé, Camila Márdila, Michel Joelsas. Brazil,
2015, 112 min., Color (Cinema).
PS: Que Horas Ela Volta? is Brazil's official submission to the 2016's Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film.
PPS: At the end of the night, I saw myself once more in front of Boyhood, unable to turn off the TV. I absolutely love the easygoing way of this movie, created by such a long and careful production.