By Sascha Krieger
Que horas ela volta? (Panorama / Brazil / Diretor: Anna Muylaert)
Motherhood and social chasms are at the center of yet another Berlinale audience favorite from Brazil. Regina Casé plays Val, a middle-aged woman, long-time housekeeper for a wealthy Sao Paulo family. The film opens with a flashback: while Val lovingly cares for the family’s son Fabinho, her own daughter Jéssica, who she left behind far away with her sister, calls. The ease with which she converses with her employer’s child is absent in the long-distance relationship with her own daughter. When the film continues, Fabinho is seventeen and Jéssica a young adult who, after years of silence visits her mother. Despite all the talk of her being port of the family, despite her being Fabinho’s confidante and surrogate mother, Val unquestioningly accepts and internalizes the social and power gap between herself and her employers, a gap which they, including Fabinho, automatically keep enacting. Not so Jéssica: she cannot accept her mother being treated as second-class, causing clear-cut and unquestioned barriers to blur. Not accepting hierarchies, Jéssica gets into open conflict with Val who better understands that her daughter’s acceptance by the family is just part of the power game. They can offer acceptance and withdraw it. But her daughter’s view of the world does not leave Val unaffected. When the film ends, a new chapter is beginning, roles have been upended and old mistakes have a chance to be righted.
Anna Muylaert’s film is a light-handed take on motherhood that keeps its casual, matter-of-factly tone throughout. Val’s struggling with her daughter, herself and long accepted rules is as humorous as it is touching, the employer’s flirting with Jéssica ridiculous and sad, the mother cold-hearted and increasingly desperate, Fabinho loving as very well aware of his power. Only Jéssica, who ironically harbours the greatest secret of all, refuses to play games as she forces her mother to face the ambivalent position she’s placed herself i. The film is particularly strong in creating small everyday situation in which the larger issues appear en miniature. It lovingly portrays and slightly ironizes its characters, avoids showdowns, and always inserts a measure of humour. The more it does so, the stronger do the absurdities of a class-based society which trickles straight down into the family unit, can be seen and felt and the higher the stakes, the more necessary decisions become. In the end, Val becomes the decision-maker as Casé’s always alert and increasingly harassed face begins to open up and allow a rather infectious smile. It is one many viewers carry on their lips as they leave the screening after this entertaining, funny, touching and incredibly smart film.