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THE SEC­OND MOTHER, in Por­tuguese with English sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3 chiles

A work­ing mother faces tough choices. When she’s at work, she must rely on a care­giver for her young child. But if she spends too much time at work, can she lose her child’s af­fec­tion to the care­giver? In The Sec­ond

Mother, di­rec­tor Anna Muy­laert hovers over this ques­tion and gives us a very en­joy­able story, which nonethe­less could have been more nu­anced. Val (Regina Casé), a full-time maid in a high-end neigh­bor­hood in São Paulo, has taken care of Bar­bara’s only child, Fabinho, since he was a tod­dler. The film’s Por­tuguese ti­tle Que Ho­ras Ela Volta? means “What time will she re­turn?” — a ques­tion lit­tle Fabinho asks Val about his mother. Bar­bara (Karine Te­les), a fa­mous style-set­ter, is al­ways busy work­ing. Her hus­band, Dr. Car­los, is a spaced-out re­tiree — he has in­her­ited some wealth and has given up his as­pi­ra­tions to be a pain­ter. Val’s labors pro­vide the grease to keep the fam­ily’s do­mes­tic life run­ning. When Val’s teenage daugh­ter, Jés­sica (Camila Márdila), ar­rives for a tem­po­rary stay, this cozy ex­is­tence is up­ended.

Ad­dress­ing the is­sue of care­givers, Pene­lope Leach, the au­thor of the best­selling Your Baby and Child, writes: “In­deed, the more peo­ple chil­dren have to love and feel loved by, the more lov­able and lov­ing they are likely to be.” But that’s not what hap­pens in Bar­bara’s life. When she gets into a car ac­ci­dent, Fabinho — now a teenager — doesn’t even bother to visit her in the hos­pi­tal. Pre­sum­ably Bar­bara has lost Fabinho’s love not only be­cause she is a worka­holic, but also be­cause she’s ad­dicted to her iPhone in the evenings. In any case, Bar­bara is por­trayed a tad harshly. That she has a light­weight pro­fes­sion is be­side the point; even fash­ion­istas have to put in the hours to stay afloat. What if Bar­bara were a life-sav­ing sur­geon? Would that make her more im­mune to mock­ery?

In the end, Val gives up her work in or­der to at­tend to her life as a mother — that’s not ex­actly a welcome so­lu­tion for work­ing women who don’t have that op­tion. The use of work­ing moth­ers as fall guys ex­poses a philo­soph­i­cal crater in this film. Still, this is a re­ward­ing story for the ques­tions it raises and for the touches of hu­mor through­out. One episode that is jar­ring is Dr. Car­los’ out­size re­ac­tion to Jés­sica — this isn’t com­pletely be­liev­able, given the short amount of time they’ve known each other.

Regina Casé gives a su­perb per­for­mance as Val. In her role as a maid, she is sub­servient to Bar­bara, she loves Fabinho dearly, and she tries to pound (with­out any suc­cess) so­cial codes into her daugh­ter. Jés­sica is a breath of oxy­gen, not the least be­cause she mocks so­cial bar­ri­ers. She in­tends to study ar­chi­tec­ture and has passed the first-level en­trance ex­ams to the univer­sity of her dreams. Still, as­sum­ing that Jés­sica will join an ar­chi­tec­ture firm af­ter grad­u­a­tion, she’ll even­tu­ally need some re­li­able form of child­care too. — Priyanka Ku­mar

La­bor day: Regina Casé

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