The Second Mother
by writer/director Anna Muylaert
The Second Mother grew from my belly, then my heart, before it reached my brain.
I’ve always worked a lot, but when I got pregnant I felt a strong call to stay home with my baby. I decided to leave my TV job. When I broke the news to my boss, she told me I wouldn’t stand it for longer than two months. But at that point, I felt I had to take care of my son. I had, more than anything in the world, to stay with my son.
The experience of motherhood transformed me. I grew each day, in this enormous exercise of giving all my time, efforts and sleep to another being. I felt it was a sacred role. But I soon noticed everybody around me had nannies. In my society, women like me didn’t do this work. Friends tried to convince me to hire a nanny. But how could I feel comfortable giving my baby to another woman’s arms? How could someone hire a nanny for such a low salary when she probably left her own child to take care of yours? No; I couldn’t miss a day of motherhood. That’s how this film was born.
When I decided to write a film around a nanny, many issues came to mind. Motherhood, affectional education, formal education, lack of formal education, social gap. I was sure this character had a lot to say about my country’s qualities and problems. The upper classes who were raised by two mothers lived as if in a hotel, never helping with domestic work. Never cooking, washing clothes or walking the dog. And in the end, they’re lazy and vulnerable. I know this because I was raised this way. In my mother’s house, we didn’t do a thing. Her name was Dagmar. She stayed for 30 years, sleeping in a little room by the kitchen and doing everything. When I left my parents’ house after 18 years, I realized I didn’t know how to deal with my life. I didn’t want to repeat this pattern as a mother. I knew my kid wasn’t going to be a kid forever and I didn’t want to miss this time with him. I decided to be his only mother. That was 20 years ago. When I went to the Sundance Film Festival he wrote me saying, “thanks for being my first mother.” It really moved me. We’re friends now.
Writing the last draft of this film was intense. I wasn’t satisfied with the material when we were ready to shoot. I had the story, but the nanny’s daughter was still a cliché—weak and incapable. And since Lula became president of Brazil he started to make social actions that changed the face of the country. The nanny’s daughter had to get out of this social curse through a different door. I wanted a hopeful ending, but something more realistic than a Hollywood happy ending. I locked myself in my home office for weeks like a raging bull in a cage, looking for a way out. Then one night an idea came to me. The way out is education. The nanny’s daughter would come to the screen as a citizen. She’d apply to study architecture. The house will be the metaphor for the social floors of society. We’ll talk about affection. We’ll make a film about the architecture of affections within Brazilian classism. We’ll give kids back to their first, real mothers. We’ll heal our characters. This film is a utopia: the portrait of tomorrow. The portrait of the country as we want it to be.