Brazil has seen a recent wave of contemporary LGBT cinema. Last year’s Berlinale saw the premiere of Brazilian film, Beira-Mar, and this year’s Brazilian LGBT hit was the film Don’t Call Me Son (in original Portuguese “Mãe só ha uma” / There is only one mother). As part of the Panorama program, the film is unique in that it tells an interesting story that goes beyond the traditional topics covered in gay cinema.
Ultimately, this is a film about identity. And not just LGBT identity. It’s about who you are and what you like. These questions, especially when growing up, are often the cause of great conflict between your desires and your passions, your family, your friends and yourself. Don’t Call Me Son tells the story of a Brazilian teenager, Pierre (Naomi Nero), in this process of discovering his identity. He loves playing music with his band and painting his lips with red lipstick. He kisses girls and he kisses boys. He’s exploring his sexuality, as something completely natural. Early in the film, it’s revealed that Pierre was stolen from his biological family. He discovers that the person he’s called mother for his entire live has been lying to him.
The film is set in an atmosphere of clashes between what you expect from life and what you get, with Pierre and his sister wanting to belong, to remain in the illusions of their former life; but being forced to interact with their “real” families: people who are complete strangers and who come from a different social class. With that comes different worldviews and different moral values. In short, Pierre is forced to fight for his newly discovered identity, to set limits and to force his new family to respect who he is and what’s happened to him during all his missed years.
On the other side, Pierre’s biological family is also a victim of the crime. They have expectations related to a son that they barely know, and they’re challenged by the circumstances in which respect and acceptance are the only possible outcome. The movie is an uplifting tale of love and compassion. It shows us how our wishes and desires shape us and how difficult it is to fight for the liberty of just being yourself. There will be tears and broken hearts in the process, but if you want to live your life, you need to go through this painful process of growing up.
This is director Anna Muylaert’s second film in as many years which premiered at the Berlinale. In 2015, her film The Second Mother also touched on a similar theme—focusing on the the idea of motherhood and belonging. The movie Don’t Call Me Son is dramatic, but director Muylaert wisely includes humorous scenes and funny surprises. In a transgressive form of cinema, her work bets for alternative storytelling, in which common things like bowling and red dresses become major points of conflict.
Don’t Call Me Son was the debut of Brazilian actor Naomi Nero, and his simplicity and easygoingness are well transmitted into the film. His interpretation gives Pierre all what the character in this conflict needs: inner passion, anger, grief; but mostly hope, strength and perseverance.