The Brazilian film The Second Mother tells the story of Val, a live-in maid and nanny working for a well-to-do family in São Paulo. For years Val has devoted herself to the family, but she remains very much a second-class citizen in the home. She sleeps in a tiny room below stairs, is constantly at the family's beck and call and accepts her lot in life without asking questions.
Regina Casé and Camila Márdila in The Second Mother
Courtesy of Oscilloscope
But then Val's daughter Jéssica, from whom she has long been separated, moves in. A self-possessed, aspiring architecture student, Jéssica cannot fathom why her mother endures what she sees as the indignity of her life as a maid.
Jéssica is played by Camila Márdila, and Regina Casé takes on the role of Val. Case is a famous actress and television host in Brazil.
As the film's director Anna Muylaert explains, having Casé involved was actually a stumbling block initially. Funding for movies in Brazil comes from the government, and selection committees were hesitant to fund a movie with such a big star. The thinking was that Casé was so famous, couldn't she just pay for the movie herself? Muylaert ended up getting a small amount of funding from local committees, but worked on the film for more than a year without taking a salary herself.
The Second Mother is the fourth film by Muylaert, and it's by far her biggest hit. This year at Sundance both Regina Casé and Camila Márdila won special jury awards for acting in the world cinema division.
The film got another boost when Brazil submitted it as its Oscar entry for best foreign-language picture. Muylaert hopes her film can become one of the five that will ultimately compete in that category, which might finally open more opportunities for her. She's found that for all the success at home and abroad -- she's still treated as a second-class citizen in the male-dominated world of filmmaking.
While the machismo culture is especially strong in Brazil, Muylaert says she faces rampant sexism in the industry everywhere she travels. She tells of a distributor in Berlin who would only talk to her male producer and people congratulating her boyfriend on the film when he had nothing to do with it.
Muylaert is eager to talk about these issues of sexism, and how they also apply to the world beyond filmmaking.
"We're very strong," Muylaert says of women in Brazil, "but we're still being treated as if we're not."