Dir.: Anna Muylaert
Cast: Regina Case, Karine Teles, Camila Mardila, Lourenco Mutarelli, Michel Joelsas
Brazil 2015, 114 min.
The tranquil life of an upper middle class family in Sao Paulo is turned upside down, when the daughter of the housekeeper Val (Case) comes to stay. As it turns out, Val is the lynchpin of the family, and nothing will ever be the same again after Jessica arrives. Writer/director Anna Muylaert (Collect Call) tackles themes of class, family, education and wealth in a narrative driven drama, carried by the brilliant central performance of Regina Case.
Val left her village and her baby Jessica behind when she went to work for Dr. Carlos (Mutarelli) and his wife Barbara (Teles) in Sao Paulo. A decent salary meant Val could afford a good school for Jessica. Now she has come to Sao Paulo, to sit an entrance examination at the very competitive architecture exams at the prestigious FAU. Fabinho (Joelsas), the son of the house, is the same age as her daughter, but the opposite of the success-driven Jessica: he idles his time away with friends and still goes for nightly cuddles with Val, who more or less raised him, feeling much closer to her than to his careerist mother. Dr, Carlos is a decadent ex-painter who has given up on life, and spends much of the day in bed, even proposing to Jessica. Fabinho too falls for Jessica, who successfully ‘upgrades’ her lodgings from a mattress in her mother’s small room, to the much bigger guest room. Jessica does not follow her mother’s orders of subservience to her host family (‘you say ‘no’ when they offer you something, because they expect you to decline’). She even asks for the “better” brand of ice cream, reserved for family members, whilst Val and her helper Edna have their own, cheaper brand. Dona Barbara (as she likes to be called by Val) finally snaps: after Jessica has a swim in the pool with Fabinho and a friend, she orders the water to be drained and replaced from the pool, making a lame excuse of having spotted a rat. It’s clear that life will never be the same again now that Jessica has made her presence known in this rigid class-based society.
Apart from Case, the ensemble performance is very strong, particularly Teles’ Barbara, who acts the part of the “modern”, successful woman, giving interviews about progress in society, despite being able to cope with the fact that her cleaner’s daughter is more successful than her pampered son. Her husband, having inherited wealth from his hard working father, is remote from his family, only interested in lusting after Jessica. In spite of his utter laziness, Fabinho is the most sympathetic member of the family, his good-bye to Val is heart-wrenching. But Val and Jessica are not just victims of the system but women who make their own decisions, will ultimately shape their lives. With an English title that is much more pertinent than the original “When will she come back?; ex-film critic Muylaert delivers a serious critique of inequality in contemporary Brazil in this fast-paced, subtle and amusing tour-de-force. AS
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