Val, a hardworking live-in housekeeper (Regina Case, an icon in Brazil and this movie proves why) who’s been serving a wealthy Sao Paolo, Brazil family for 13 years, is stage center in The Second Mother, a strong, multilayered comedy in Portuguese from director Anna Muylaert. The self-sacrificing housekeeper is strongly and affectionately entrenched in the lives of a second-generation wealthy doctor (Lourenco Mutarelli), his resourceful go-getter wife wife (Karine Tlees), and their son (Michel Loelsas) who is about to enter university and who considers Val almost as close to him as his own mother.

Things get rocky when Val’s own daughter Jessica (Camila Maddila), who has lived for a decade half a country away with Val’s estranged husband, decides to stay with her while she takes her university exams in Sao Paolo to study architecture. “How can you let them treat you like a second class citizen?,” asks the ambitious, attractive Jessica, who says what’s on her mind and expects others to do what she wants — simply because she asks them to. Jessica hasn’t quite figured out that her pragmatic mother’s being treated like a second class citizen has afforded her a life of opportunity and promise and Val fears that her daughter will cost her her job. Jessica also turns out to be a bit of an erotic lightning rod for the men Val takes care of and the film gets more fascinating, and deeper, from there.

The Second Mother is good, complicated stuff, with plenty of powerful things to say about parenthood and class differences. It’s beautifully acted by the whole ensemble cast and Case has a field day playing a character who is incredibly likable and nurturing but who, after all, has pretty much left her daughter on her own and who finally has to decide whether she wants to mother her own child or let her fend for herself. Wise, funny, sexy, The Second Mother has so much to offer, not the least of which is an ending that has to be one of the most satisfying, if neatest and all-wrapped-up, of any movie so far this year.

The Second Mother