Mãe Só Há Uma [Don’t Call Me Son] (2016)

Mãe Só Há Uma (literally: You Only Have One Mother)
Director: Anna Muylaert
Writer: Anna Muylaert
Cast: Naomi NeroDaniel BotelhoDani NefussiMatheus NachtergaeleLais DiasLuciana PaesHelena AlbergariaLuciano BortoluzziJune DantasRenan Tenca
Part of: identities Festival
Seen on: 14.6.2017

Pierre (Naomi Nero) gets along well with his mom Aracy (Dani Nefussi) and his sister Jaqueline (Lais Dias). He spends most of his time with his band, taking advantage of the small bit of fame by having lots of sex with both boys and girls, while working out his (gender) identity. But then Pierre is informed that Aracy, the woman he has always known as his mother, actually stole him from Gloria (Dani Nefussi) and Matheus (Matheus Nachtergaele), and she stole his sister, too. As Gloria and Matheus try to reconnect with their son – who they insist on calling Felipe – Pierre can’t accept this new version of his family.

Mãe Só Há Uma tells a pretty incredible story with a lot of sensitivity and insight. It’s sometimes a little long and the ending felt a little frustrating, but it’s definitely worth it regardless.

Questions of identity are always the right material for coming-of-age films, but in this case, coming-of-age feels like the right material for a story about identity. The film works with that theme on quite a few levels: There’s, of course, the angle of nature and nurture and do you belong to the family who raised you or the family who provided the biological material for your existence? Can you belong to both? Those questions – known from every adoption story – are complicated by the fact that we’re not actually talking about adoption here, but of theft, of kidnapping.

Then there’s the fact that Pierre is just trying to figure out who Pierre is, when he is confronted with “actually” being Felipe. But who is this Felipe? Pierre at least knows that Pierre is bisexual and he might be non-binary – at least he really likes to wear dresses, paint his nails and wear make-up. And how will his mother(s) react to all of this?

On a more meta level, Dani Nefussi plays both Aracy and Gloria. Which interesting because I went through the entire film without noticing that – it was only when I looked at the casting list that I realized it (what a performance, both as an actress and from the make-up department). Which is another layer of how much people are the same and how much they’re not depending on their circumstances.

So, there’s a lot to dissect here regarding identities, and I did appreciate it. But at times the film becomes a little slow and could have done with some tightening here and there. Especially since I would have rather seen the time used to go a little further with the story. The ending is frustratingly open, laying bare the big problem in a harrowing scene (with a fantastic performance by Naomi Nero) and the leaving us without giving any sense of where things could go from here. Perfect setup for a sequel, but I don’t think that’s planned.

Still the film is interesting enough to warrant being watched and discussing the questions it poses. I certainly don’t regret having seen it.

Summarizing: Fascinating.

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