Val (Regina Casé) works as the live-in housekeeper for a wealthy São Paulo family, and, like many in her position, acts as second mother to the son, Fabinho (Michel Joelsas). She's the family's backbone - at the expense of her own. For the last 10 years, she hasn't seen her own daughter, Jéssica (Camila Márdila), whom she left behind in the country.

The Second Mother gives Val another chance. Jéssica applies to a university, moves in with Val, and throws her mother's life into disarray. That disarray is necessary for Val, who her employers say is like one of the family - though it is clear she is not.

Jéssica is headstrong and smart. When Fabinho asks her to swim in the family pool, she doesn't decline out of politeness, as Val would. She enjoys herself in the water. She wants to be an architect because she sees the profession as an agent for social change. Her mother may be an employee, but Jéssica makes very clear that she is not.

The Second Mother is an interesting look at generational and class divides in Brazil, without the feel of a lecture or lesson. It is the story of a woman who thought she gave up motherhood, but who had been a mother all along - just not to her biological child.

Casé is naturally excellent as Val. She is warm, yet stuck in the position she has created for herself. That is, until her daughter shows her that sometimes it's OK to eat the boss' ice cream and even swim in the pool.

The Second Mother *** (Out of four stars)


Directed Anna Muylaert. With Regina Casé, Michel Joelsas, Camila Márdila. Distributed by Oscilloscope.

Running time: 1 hour, 54 mins.

Parent's guide: R (language and brief drug use).

Playing at: Ritz 5.EndText