Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A parenting/parentage problem brought to life in Anna Muylaert's smart DON'T CALL ME SON

The last time we heard from Anna Muylaert was just last year with her Oscar-submitted for Best Foreign Language Film, The Second Mother, a wonderfully complicated movie in which ironies abound and everything from class and economics to pride and parenting are involved. Ms Muylaert's latest endeavor, DON'T CALL ME SON (Mãe Só Há Uma), is a lot less complicated, while sporting a half-hour shorter running time, too. This does not mean that the movie is any less rich or deep, however. In fact, in just 77 minutes (plus credits), this writer/ director (shown below) manages to believably probe a very fraught situation.

What happens here is that an adolescent son and his slightly younger sister are yanked away from their mother who, it turns out, stole them when they were both babies. Via DNA matches, both kids are reunited with their birth families (or, in the case of the daughter, what's left of that family), whom they neither know nor care to know, while the only mother they have known is tossed into jail.

A situation like this one is unfair to everyone involved but must somehow be handled as best as it can, and in Ms Muylaert's hands it becomes an opportunity to make us think and feel and even smile -- if not outright laugh at times -- without ever getting near anything "fake." (The line, "He looks like my dad," has seldom seemed so moving.) This would be accomplishment enough, but the filmmaker also tosses a few more bombshells into her mix.

The young man (played by newcomer Naomie Nero, at right, above, and center, below) -- originally named Felipe but known as Pierre for most of his life -- is one of those raging hormone adolescents who plays in a rock band, is an androgynous cross-dresser, and has sex with both boys and girls. The family he comes into is of a completely different economic and cultural class than he is used to. And the two mothers -- birth and thieving -- are played by the same actress. TrustMovies would never have realized this, had he not referred to the press information, post-viewing. In any case, that actress -- Daniela Nefussi (at left, above and below) -- is superb: hugely different and completely believable in both roles.

Via adeptly chosen scenes, we view and understand the feelings of everybody toward the situation at hand and how it evolves: the birth mom and dad; that family's younger brother who, of course, views this new addition as the supreme interloper onto his former secure territory; even the social workers involved in the case. The movie also brings up questions that are not so easily answered regarding identity and one's place in the family and the world. This is difficult enough for those of us living what we might call "normal" lives. Seen here, it seems initially maybe insurmountable.

Then the filmmaker gives us just one moment of sweet rapprochement that is simple, smart and rings absolutely true. Ms Muylaert, as they say, has done it again. Don't Call Me Son -- from Zeitgeist Films, in Portuguese with English subtitles and running 82 minutes -- opens today, Wednesday, November 2, in its U.S. theatrical premier at New York City's Film Forum. It opens in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal next Friday, November 11, and will hit at least another ten cities over the weeks to come. (In South Florida it opens at Miami's Tower Theater on November 18.) Click here then scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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