Don’t Call Me Son

DON’T CALL ME SON, not rated, in Por­tuguese with sub­ti­tles, The Screen,

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

The Brazil­ian writer-direc­tor Anna Muy­laert (The Sec­ond Mother) takes the provoca­tive sub­jects of iden­tity and the mean­ing of fam­ily and buries them in a list­less, dis­jointed nar­ra­tive that leaves us want­ing to be en­gaged — while only oc­ca­sion­ally al­low­ing us a way in.

Pierre (Naomi Nero) is a hand­some an­drog­y­nous seven­teen-year-old boy who fa­vors eye­liner, lip­stick, and women’s lin­gerie. We meet him in a dance club, where he picks up a girl and has sex with her while perched on a sink in the re­stroom. Muy­laert shoots the assig­na­tion with a closeup of Pierre’s hairy thrust­ing but­tocks framed in garters and a G-string; the main value of the shot seems sim­ply to re­flect just how blasé we’ve be­come in these matters.

Pierre lives with his blowsy wid­owed mother, Aracy (Daniela Ne­fussi), and younger sis­ter Jaque­line (Lais Dias) in a hap­haz­ard house­hold where mom doesn’t al­ways turn up in time to fix meals. He’s a sullen, dis­af­fected bi­sex­ual kid who plays gui­tar in a rock band, ig­nores his teach­ers at school, and likes to lock him­self in the bath­room at home to put on makeup, shave his chest, and shoot self­ies of his gartered pos­te­rior.

The story turns on the rev­e­la­tion that Pierre was not adopted, as he has thought, but stolen from the hospi­tal as an in­fant. His fam­ily has been search­ing for him for all these years, and now the po­lice have re­ceived a tip that brings Aracy and Pierre down to the sta­tion for DNA test­ing. Where did the tip come from? The po­lice won’t tell them, and Muy­laert doesn’t tell us. And when it turns out that Jaque­line was also stolen, we’re left to wonder how Aracy was able to keep turn­ing up at home with new ba­bies and with­out rais­ing any red flags.

Aracy is packed off to prison and never heard from again. Pierre’s bour­geois bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents swoop in and take pos­ses­sion of the boy they call Felipe, much to his an­noy­ance. The fa­ther, Matheus (Matheus Nachter­gaele), is a beer-drink­ing, back­slap­ping foot­ball fan; the mother, Glória (also played by Ne­fussi, with dif­fer­ent hair), is a mid­dle-class ma­tron who al­ter­nates be­tween beam­ing and tears. There is also a younger brother, Joca (Daniel Botelho), a quiet kid who looks a lot like Pierre.

Much is made of the par­ents’ clue­less­ness when it comes to ab­sorb­ing the long-lost son into the fam­ily. They don’t seem to have con­sulted any­one, con­sid­ered coun­sel­ing, or done any sort of prepa­ra­tion. What is the right way to pry a teenager away from the only fam­ily he has known and plop him into a new one? What does it mean to be a mother or a fa­ther or a brother or a son? Pierre/Felipe is surly and re­sent­ful un­der the blun­der­ing at­ten­tions of his new par­ents, and he takes to openly wear­ing dresses to in­fu­ri­ate his ho­mo­pho­bic fa­ther — but he was no model of well-ad­justed youth in the old cir­cum­stances ei­ther. Muy­laert’s ques­tions here are chal­leng­ing, but an­swers, if there are any, are in short sup­ply. — Jonathan Richards

I turned my­self to face me: Naomi Nero (left) and Matheus Nachter­gaele

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