Que Horas Ela Volta? [The Second Mother] (2015)

Que Horas Ela Volta? [literally: When does she come back?]
Director: Anna Muylaert
Writer: Anna Muylaert
Cast: Regina Casé, Camila Márdila, Karine Teles, Michel Joelsas, Lourenço Mutarelli, Helena Albergaria
Seen on: 24.11.2022

Val (Regina Casé) is a live-in housekeeper for a rich family in São Paulo. She has devoted herself to them – Bárbara (Karine Teles), Carlos (Lourenço Mutarelli) and their son Fabinho (Michel Joelsas). So much so, that she has barely seen her own daughter Jéssica (Camila Márdila) grow up. But Jéssica has announced that she wants to come to the city to take the entrance exams for university. Val is overjoyed and excited, especially since Jéssica is allowed to stay with her. But Jéssica’s arrival in the household and her disregard for class barriers brings everything in disorder.

Que Horas Ela Volta? is an observant and finely crafted study of the class system and how everything starts to crumble when one person doesn’t play along. It’s funny, touching and really very enjoyable.

The film poster showing Val (Regina Casé) stroking Fabinho's (Michel Joelsas) head.

Que Horas Ela Volta? has some parallels to Mlungu Wam which I saw recently, so that was quite amusing. But after the set-ups the stories develop very differently, so if you were irritated by that, don’t be – the films are very different. They do share a theme and observations about the hierarchies between “master” and “servant”. Val is acutely aware of all the rules she has to follow to keep her place in the house even as the family likes to pretend that she is part of the family. Jéssica, on the other hand, doesn’t want to understand those rules. She doesn’t accept that the family can have it both ways: asserting their power while pretending their all family.

Her refusal lays bare the hipocrisy of the family’s apparent generosity. When Jéssica uses the pool (invited by Fabinho), it is drained and cleaned. When she accepts the invitation to stay in the guest room instead of sharing the housekeeper’s room with Val, she is quickly uninvited. Finally it becomes clear that it is impossible for her to stay in the house at all.

Jéssica (Camila Márdila) and Val (Regina Casé) standing back to back next to the pool.

Val is put through the wringer. She has missed so much of Jéssica’s life, having her there is the best thing that could ever happen to her. But with the way the family and Jéssica clash, Val has to decide between them. And that is a far harder decision for her than one would might think. Val has raised Fabinho, she has bought into the narrative that she is part of the family. It is a very particular part, but it is a part nonetheless.

The film observes all of this with great attention and not without a sense of humor and with absolutely wonderful performances by Casé, Márdila and Teles (the men are not as important to the story, the film is about the way the women relate to each other – the men are just there to underscore that). It is simply excellent.

Val (Regina Casé) taking a short break while hanging the laundry.

Summarizing: insightful.

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