Don’t Call Me Son
DON’T CALL ME SON, not rated, in Portuguese with subtitles, The Screen,
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