Anchored by a warm, wonderful performance from Regina Casé, the Brazilian film "The Second Mother" is a heartfelt social drama from director Anna Muylaert. Casé plays Val, a live-in housekeeper for a wealthy São Paulo family, whose life is disrupted when her estranged daughter, Jéssica (Camila Márdila), comes to stay with her. Though Val hasn't seen Jéssica in 10 years, most of the income she's earned has gone to providing financial support for her. Smart and outspoken, Jéssica hopes to study architecture at the local university, and is embarrassed when she learns that she's to sleep on a mattress on the floor of her mother's room in the back of the family home. She soon convinces the man of the house, Juan Carlos (Lourenço Mutarelli), to let her to stay in the guest room instead. Meanwhile, Val continues to dote on the family's teenage son, Fabinho (Michel Joelsas), whom she's raised since he was a small boy.
Jéssica's presence upsets the delicate balance of the household, and she transgresses its unspoken boundaries by expecting to be treated as a guest during her visit and not another one of the help. Val frets that her daughter's behavior may cost her the job as Juan Carlos takes a liking to the girl but possibly has expectations of something more; and the mistress of the house, Bárbara (KarineTeles), turns even more resentful as she realizes how little control she has over her own household. "The Second Mother" made the Oscar shortlist for Foreign Language film, and it's a worthy selection. Muylaert maintains a piercing sense of humor as she examines the rigid class hierarchies and the subtle, yet no less damaging, injustices that keep them in place.