In The Second Mother, a maid named Val (Regina Casé) welcomes her long-lost daughter Jéssica (Camila Márdila) into the home of the family she tends to. The family takes an immediate liking to the confident, university-bound girl, and the more or less unseen Val must continue her toils and duties as maid while her daughter is fawned upon. Tensions tighten and relations complicate as the boundaries between upper and lower class, mother and daughter, family and live-in servant begin to blur.
The Second Mother is a fine and good-hearted drama made strong in the quietudes with which tremendous loves and pains are so subtly communicated. Casé is incredible as a maid who must uphold her dignity as she watches her daughter become an honorary member of the family that orders her around. We watch as Val gathers strength to assert herself in new ways, and as she swallows the pain of seemingly losing her child to a realm that rules and structures forbid her, as a maid, from trespassing upon. The movie is great at capturing family dynamics. Val’s dynamic with Jéssica, fraught though it is with family and class lines, maintains its sweetness, and we see the ways in which Val, bound with self-restrictions, must learn from her more self-confident younger half. Between them, vast emotions are communicated in the concealment of ice cream choices and laundry foldings.
It’s a very real movie, from the way the camera anxiously darts around the dinner table during a testy conversation on Jéssica’s education, to the admittedly slow tone (the movie, to its fault, maintains that dramatic serious-movie pace throughout, and perhaps could have benefited from some slight interjections of speed or laughter.) Also worth noting is Lourenço Mutarelli as the introverted art professor father, Dr. Carlos, a good portrayal of a man eloquent in his pensiveness but still, in his later years, somewhat graceless and lonely in his means of expressing affections. The Second Mother is great in showing how social hierarchies can so subjugate and silence the unacknowledged, and how domesticity, in its need for ordering, can so disorder families and suffocate their un-communicated inner lives, and how love, however complicated or rule-bound, nonetheless finds a way of breaking through.