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February 13, 2018

Don't Call Me Son


Mae So Ha Uma
Anna Muylaert - 2016
Kino Lorber/Zeitgeist Films Region 1 DVD

Anna Muylaert films actor Naomi Nero, the seventeen year-old Pierre, in close-up in his first scenes, barely lit, with his face only partially seen. He's in a crowded Sao Paolo nightclub, wearing an animal ear hat with flaps that further obscures his face. Dancers casually pair up with each other or just as easily drift off to dance alone. Muylaert cuts to a shot of Pierre fucking a girl he was dancing with. What we see is within the frame are the two bodies from the mid-section locked together, taking notice of Pierre's garters and black stockings.

In this opening scene, Muylaert confronts her audience much in the way that Pierre eventually confronts his biological parents. A fluid sense of sexual identity is presented here without explanation or apology. Why I prefer the original poster for the film rather than the DVD cover is because instead of simply showing Pierre's sexually ambiguous appearance, the Brazilian poster also emphasizes Pierre's constant state of rebellion with his turned up middle finger. The story is inspired by a true incident of a child who was stolen from a maternity ward, only to be reunited with his biological parents years later. Pierre and his younger sister, Jacqueline, discover that they were never adopted, but were stolen at birth. The film explores the idea of what family means, in addition to self-identity.

Muylaert has the same actress, Dani Nefussi, play both the biological mother and the adoptive mother. Muylaert has explained this casting choice based on the emotional bonds that the women have with Pierre. This film is in some ways a thematic extension of Muylaert's previous film, The Second Mother, which also explored emotional and family bonds, as well as social strata. Pierre and Jacqueline are first seen in a small, but functional apartment. This is contrasted with Pierre's new home, a large house in a gated community. Pierre's former apartment could fit in the kitchen with room to spare. That contrast of change of parentage and home is made more clear when Pierre, attempting to leave his new home, is thwarted when his biological mother calls to have a guard close the entrance gate.

Even though the film's sympathies are primarily with Pierre, Muylaert also recognizes the pain of the biological parents reuniting with a child thought lost for seventeen years. The English language title is taken from a scene in which Pierre lets his parents know that he will not conform to traditional notions of masculinity. The original Portuguese title translates as "Mother there's only one", which may be more open for interpretation. The DVD comes with brief interviews with Muylaert and the main actors. Aside from discussing the research done prior to making the film, Muylaert discusses how she cast Naomi Nero, making his acting debut here, spotted for his naturalism on the dance floor.


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 13, 2018 10:13 AM