Live-in maid dramas are as old as time, but in the 21st century, perhaps no region does them quite like Latin America. Maybe it’s because despite expanding social mobility, some old classist traditions die hard. Real hard. While these films are an unfortunate reflection of Latin America’s persistent classism, they also tend to empower the experiences of otherwise invisible domestic servants. Sebastián Silva’s 2009 indie darling La nana (The Maid) was one particularly effective recent example, and now, six years later, yet another Latin American maid drama has made a splash at Sundance and caught the attention of stateside distributors.
Coming out of Brazil, Que horas ela volta? (The Second Mother) had a particularly fruitful festival run over the first few months of 2015, managing to win over audiences with its effective blend of character-driven comedy and incisive social commentary. Dramatizing the story of a middle-aged live-in maid from the countryside whose estranged teenaged daughter comes to live with her in her employers’ lavish São Paulo home, The Second Mother offers up a subtle examination of the unspoken rules that govern social class in urban Brazil.
This is all thanks to our protagonist’s hard-headed adolescent daughter, who seems to have arrived in the big city without any notion of hierarchy and promptly sends the household dynamic into disarray. First, she accepts a bed in the family’s guest bedroom without realizing that it was offered to her as a mere formality, then she has the audacity to swim in the family’s pool. Everything unfolds with brilliant comic timing, thanks almost entirely to beloved television actress Regina Casé, who plays the nagging, neurotic, and gossip-loving maid Val. Then of course, there’s veteran writer-director Anna Muylaert’s confident execution, with attractive, geometrical shot compositions that use doorways, windows, and other spatial elements for full narrative effect.
Unsurprisingly, after picking up a Jury Award for Acting at the Sundance Film Festival, The Second Mother earned itself the Audience Award from the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival. Luckily, the folks over at Oscilloscope Laboratories were intelligent enough to see the film’s crossover appeal and picked it up for stateside distribution.
The Second Mother opens in Los Angeles and New York on August 28, 2015, with other cities to follow.
UPDATE 9/10/2015: Brazil just announced The Second Mother as its entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.