“The Second Mother,” Brazil’s entry for the 2016 Foreign Language Oscar, opens at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center this weekend. “Truth,” the gripping story of how “60 Minutes” blundered in its coverage of George W. Bush’s military service, continues at the Capawock Theatre.
Class and generational conflict in ‘The Second Mother’
Playing a São Paulo family’s housekeeper, Val (Brazilian TV personality Regina Casé) lights up the screen in “The Second Mother.” Val serves as doting de facto mother to Fabinho (Michel Joelsas), the 17-year-old son of her employers, Bárbara (Karine Teles) and Carlos (Lourenco Mutalli). She is also long-distance mom to her own daughter, Jessica (Camila Márdila). Ms. Casé and Ms. Márdila shared a Sundance Special Jury Award as mother and daughter.
Everything changes in this domestic comedy when Jessica comes to live with Val in São Paulo and take the entrance exams for architecture school. Val has functioned comfortably as a second-class citizen with her wealthy employers for 13 years. She has virtually raised Fabinho, and so close is their relationship that he still occasionally crawls into her bed and sleeps with her. She would never think of sitting in the dining room with Carlos and Bárbara, let alone swimming in the family pool. Yet she’s no pushover, badgering Carlos to eat the food she prepares and take his medicine, and purchasing an espresso set for Bárbara.
Alienated by her mother’s longtime absence, Jessica arrives with none of the class consciousness to which her mother dutifully adheres. Carlos, a onetime painter coasting on inherited wealth, comes on to Jessica, as does Fabinho, not that either meets with success. Jessica remains firmly independent and unobtrusively conscientious about her exam preparations. But she’s not above horsing around in the pool with Fabinho and his friends, choosing the guest bedroom over a mattress in Val’s cramped room, and eating Fabinho’s personal ice cream stock. Director Anna Muylaert wields a deft touch in illustrating the household dynamics.
As warmhearted and loving as she is an efficient housekeeper, Val is repeatedly shocked by her daughter’s refusal to maintain the servant-master boundaries she so faithfully observes. She pressures her daughter to follow the rules, but Jessica finds them offensive and inappropriate. Bárbara grows increasingly impatient with this interloper. As tensions heighten, the plot takes a number of unexpected, but convincing, twists and turns, until Val finds a way to satisfy both her own needs and those of her daughter.
‘Truth’: How a news story went astray
In 2004, CBS’s awardwinning news show “60 Minutes” aired an investigation of George W. Bush’s checkered military service. In the fictional version of events, producer Mary Mapes, in a tour de force performance by Cate Blanchett, uncovers evidence that then-President Bush, running for re-election, had used his family’s influence to avoid serving in Vietnam. He also might have gone AWOL while serving in the Alabama National Guard. A tsunami of criticism follows the story and leads to the downfall of both Ms. Mapes and “60 Minutes” anchor Dan Rather, played winningly by Robert Redford.
Director James Vanderbilt, who wrote the screenplay for “Zodiac,” another movie highlighting investigative journalism, takes a hard look at how the Bush military service story fell apart. At the same time, he portrays Ms. Mapes, her team of researchers, and Mr. Rather sympathetically. Ms. Mapes won the Peabody Award for her Abu Ghraib coverage, and Mr. Rather was probably the most respected news anchor at the time. With irony reverberating off its ambiguous title, “Truth” takes on tragic tones as it explores the machinery of investigative news reporting and the interaction of journalism with government and politics.
The Swift Boat controversy that derailed John Kerry’s attempt to defeat Bush was unfolding at the same time, and provides an example of how news coverage affects political issues.
One devastating revelation follows another in the Bush military service story; key witnesses lie or change their stories, and political pressures mount. CBS’s corporate executives side with critics of the story rather than support their journalists, letting the admitted errors in research overwhelm the substance of questions about Mr. Bush’s military service. Topher Grace as Mike Smith, Dennis Quaid as Lieutt. Col. Roger Charles, and Elizabeth Moss as journalism professor Lucy Scott turn in convincing roles as members of Ms. Mapes’s research team.
One of the most interesting aspects of “Truth” is the way it shows how the Internet and electronic devices have changed the way journalists operate. Critics of the Bush military service story question whether key documents could be genuine, based on type fonts that were more common on computers than the typewriters of the time. What happens to documents when they are photocopied provides another piece of the story. The poignant message of “Truth” suggests that the evidence that provides the basis for journalists’ stories has grown ever more complex and elusive.
‘Stories for a Starry Night’
Three of the Island’s awardwinning artists will join forces on Sunday, Nov. 8, in “Stories for a Starry Night — For Love of a Small Island.” Storyteller Susan Klein, photographer Alan Brigish, and pianist Gary Girouard will celebrate Vineyard life in a 4 pm performance at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. Ms. Klein will recount stories from her childhood in Oak Bluffs against a background of Mr. Brigish’s photographs and Mr. Girouard’s piano solos.
For screening times and tickets, visit mvfilmsociety.com or go to MVTimes event listings.