Film Reviews

THE SECOND MOTHER

By • Sep 3rd, 2015 •

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It speaks to anyone considering hiring a live-in nanny. Regina Casé is terrific.

Yoselyn Ortega, a 50-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen, stabbed to death two children, 6 and 2, in their family’s luxury Upper West Side apartment in 2012. Ortega, who had spent over two years as the children’s nanny, blamed the deaths on the treatment she received by their parents, Kevin and Marina Krim.

Written and directed by Brazilian filmmaker Anna Muylaert, THE SECOND MOTHER is a look at the life of a Sao Paulo live-in nanny, Val (Regina Casé), who has cared for the son of her wealthy employers, Dr. Carlos (Lourenço Mutarelli) and Barbara (Karine Telles), for over 10 years. Val has become closer to Fabinho (Michel Joelsas) than either of his parents. When he is depressed, he sleeps with Val in her tiny room.

Val raised Fabinho, now a teenager, with lavish attention. Val adores him and loves him like a son. Val has dedicated her life to Fabinho and the family’s every need. She is the perfect nanny.

Marina had a blog and spoke lovingly about traveling with the children to the Dominican Republic to stay for several days at the home of Ortega’s sister. The Krims bragged they treated Ortega as a member of the family.

Her own daughter Jessica (Camila Mardila) has been living with her sister for over 10 years. They became estranged and now, after three years of no contact, Jessica wants to come to Sao Paulo and go to college.

The family’s wealth comes from Dr. Carlos family and Dr. Carlos is wasting away bored in his room. It is steely Barbara who has the public profile as a trendsetter. She has the severe haircut of an executive who gets things done. She is comfortable in speaking her mind.

The Krim’s paid Ortega $18 an hour to help care for three small children in their luxury apartment. When Ortega complained of money troubles, they offered Ortega an additional five hours a week cleaning and looked around for some additional babysitting work for her.

In Primates of Park Avenue, Wednesday Martin describes what it was like to be an Upper East Side wife in 2004. The right nursery tuition for a toddler ranged from $25,000 to $35,000; play-date tutorials for $400 an hour; one-on-one sessions between toddler and therapist for $150 to $300. “Many of the nannies I knew made $100,000 per year or more and traveled the world by private jet. They had paid vacations, half or all of their health-care coverage paid for, and generous holiday bonuses.”

While a one three-bedroom unit in the Krim’s building was available for $10,000 per month, Ortega tried to sell cheap cosmetics to her neighbors and cooked for others as a way to make more money. Ortega had recently brought her 17-year-old son from the Dominican Republic to live with her in a Bronx apartment. When she could not pay the rent, they moved in with her three sisters in Washington Heights.

Unlike the Krims, Barbara’s relationship with Val is hierarchical. Val knows her place in the family dynamic. She never relaxes or enjoys anything the family has. She has never been in their pool, ate her breakfast as their kitchen table, or ate their special food. Fabinho’s ice cream was only for Fabinho!

Of course Barbara agrees to have Val’s daughter stay awhile preparing for the entrance exam. Val is thrilled to see her lovely daughter but Jessica is appalled that her mother is the house-maid and is expected to sleep on the floor on a mattress in her mother’s small room. Getting a tour of the large house, Jessica insists she wants to stay in the guest bedroom. Too shocked to say “no”, Dr. Carlos agrees. Val is mortified.

At first, the family welcomes Jessica but her arrogant behavior and flaunting of the “house rules for the maid’s daughter” causes Barbara to take a closer look at what is going on. Jessica has a sense of entitlement, and is embarrassed that her mother is a maid – who has been paying for her upkeep and bills.

Jessica resents Val leaving her to raise another woman’s child. She casually ignores the “rules” by eating Fabinho’s ice cream, having Barbara make her breakfast and spending time with lonely Dr. Carlos. Val is horrified. She has been an obedient servant and now her daughter is disrupting the smoothly-run household. Val knows Jessica does not respect her employers and she might lose her job. A stern talk from Barbara and Val must let Jessica leave.

While family and friends said Ortega had severe mental problems, the Krims never saw it. Ortega’s actions were horrendous and cannot be explained away. Thankfully, in THE SECOND MOTHER, while the family appreciates Val, they respect decorum of the employer-employee relationship. Even after raising Fabinho, Val would never assume she was part of the family.

Regina Casé is fantastic. Every movement telegraphs her subservient attitude. The entire cast is remarkable, especially Camila Mardila, who understands Jessica’s complexities. Writer-director Anna Muylaert structures everything around the theme of “place”. The house is modern, free of personality and highly functional. We stay in the kitchen with Val, peeking at the family eating dinner.

My favorite scene is when Val and the maid look on in horror as Jessica easily has lunch with Dr. Carlos. Val is hysterical.

Upper East Side mommies must take a good look at THE SECOND MOTHER. If you can’t support a woman’s family, do not hire her as your children’s caretaker. Don’t be seduced into thinking you can have it all. Sometimes you have made a choice: it’s either the Birkin crocodile bag or the nanny’s yearly salary.

Member of Boadcast Film Critics Association: www.bfca.org

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society:www.lvfcs.org

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at masauu@aol.com.

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