The economic inequality in Brazil is astonishing. Despite the colorful beaches and beautiful futbol players and models, Brazil's slums are similar to those found in India and South Africa. Fifty percent of the country's land is owned by four percent of the population and the rural population has been pushed into urban favelas rife with violence and little to no government service. Val's daughter has been raised in the Northern part of Brazil, known for their subsistence farming that is often negatively affected by droughts. The family Val works for resides in Sao Paolo, part of Southern Brazil, where the economy is greater than the whole of Argentina and the people live in prosperity. Jessica is irritated to see such a haughty, wealthy family treat her mother "like a second class citizen," a divide that the older generation has given up on overcoming.
Jessica is in Sao Paolo to take her entrance exams to the most prestigious architecture school in the country and represents the upward mobility that many wish to accomplish. She does what she wants to do while her mother is tied down by the expectations of her career and the household she's worked at for years. Val reprimands her snooty attitude by reminding her that the family offers her things because they expect her to say no, that she was born in a certain class and must act that way. Her old-school views are quickly retorted by Jessica's "I don't think I'm better than them, but I don't think I'm worse," a line that resonates with all the country's people who struggle every day to even out the class division with no government attention. Jessica and Val have dialogue that speaks for a nation, but their characters along with the supporting roles are flimsy. Jessica's surprise to her mother and the wealthy family's mother who constantly tries to banish Jessica's liberal attitude are treated so melodramatically. The father even tries to propose to Jessica in secret with little justification and it just seems like it's part of a telenovela.
However, the cinematography waaaay surpasses that of a telenovela. It's very minimal, often just showing Val's important presence through cramped hallways, and there is no music at all until the very end. It's very Sundance in this way, but it's social message delivery is not harmed by it. The Second Mother is an interesting and worthwhile view of a country whose broken economy and social system hides quietly beneath the World Cup and Olympics frenzy.