Gender, Identity and Family Ties in Brazilian Director Anna Muylaert’s New Film DON'T CALL ME SON

By Jhennifer Moises

After the international success of The Second Mother, Brazilian director Anna Muylaert is back with her new film Don’t Call Me Son / Mãe Só Há Uma. The film, which had its world premiere at the 66th edition of the Berlin Film Festival last February, where it won a Jury Prize at the Teddy Awards for LGBT-related films, goes deep into matters of family ties, transformations young people face during their teenage years and, also, very current topics: gender and identity. 

With a delicate look, but fierce observation, Muylaert tells the story of Pierre (Naomi Nero): a seventeen year old guy whose life is turned upside down when he finds out he was kidnapped as baby. After the shocking revelation, he sees his life take dramatic turns: he moves in with his biological family, and has to face a mother he doesn’t recognize. 

He must also deal with his father (Matheus Nachtergaele) who insists on forcing him into a conservative mold. The camera takes the audience inside the house and allows them to see up close the tense uncomfortable moments Pierre endures throughout this personal journey of a young man rediscovering himself in multiple ways. His relief is his little brother Joca (Daniel Botelho) who represents the lighter and more sensitive side of the story. As the narrative builds up, viewers see a growing relationship between the two of them. 

“After I had kids I decided to stay home for a long time, 20 years. Now they are all grown up, and I went back to going out at night. And then I started to observe this scenario of gender fluidity: a generation that doesn’t have to label themselves like mine did. The topic took a new dynamic and I wanted the (main) character to be more contemporary”, says Muylaert on why she decided to approach the subject of gender fluidity which also relates to questions of identity. 

For actor Nero, what drew him to Pierre was “the character’s hot temperament, his freedom, fluidity and detachment from concepts. I think he’s got a stand on the world I could really absorb because he’s has a freer and more fluid vision than I do”. 

The case portrayed in the movie is inspired by a real life event, a Brazilian boy named Pedro was kidnapped hours after he was born in 1986 by a woman named Vilma. Sixteen years later, he was found by his biological family. 

Mother figure

Muylaert made an interesting choice by casting actress Daniela Nefussi to play both mothers, the biological mom and the kidnapper. Nefussi said she built the two women based on the same sentiment for their child: love. And what does Nefussi think about being cast to play both parts? The actress laughs and claims it was a great choice. 

"The love a mother feels for her son is something unique. Motherhood is something unique," affirms Nefussi. The title in Portuguese translates literally into "There is only one mother," this unity prevailed when exploring this side of the story. It is a theme Anna Muylaert also approached in The Second Mother (2015), the dislocation of the mother figure from the birth mother. 

The Vancouver Latin American Film Festival, running August 25-September 4, will host a retrospective on the work of Muylaert, including the North American premiere of Don’t Call Me Son. The film will arrive in U.S. theaters on November 2, opening at Film Forum in New York City followed by a national rollout by the hand of Zeitgeist Films.