Depicting the impossible situation of teenagers reclaimed by birth parents, Anna Muylaert’s Don’t Call Me Son clothes her emotion in a plain black smock.
Smells Like Teen Spiritby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
After carrying off the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlinale in 2015 for The Second Mother, Anna Muylaert returns with Don’t Call Me Son, another tale of Brazilian upward mobility, this time in the form of 17 year-old Pierre (Naomi Nero) and his younger sister Jacqueline (Lais Dias) discovering they were stolen from their biological parents at birth. Unlike the upbeat humour of her previous film, Don’t Call Me Son is more serious in tone, as we follow Pierre’s journey of awkward encounters with his new family and sexual self-discovery. But despite one explosive moment in the final reel, Don’t Call Me Son idles along on a flatline of teenage disinterest – refusing some of the story’s natural highs, such as a natural curiosity in the events surrounding Pierre’s abduction or a confrontation with the mother who raised him. Suspended in a world of sexual fluidity, the character of Pierre is disappointingly inexpressive, and the gender confusion feels incoherent, functioning at its best as a metaphor for his new parents’ attempts to control him through his clothes. The hinted at suggestion however that Pierre might be trying to push their buttons and test his boundaries remains frustratingly undeveloped. Continuing her theme of two mothers, the best thing about Anna Muylaerts’ film is Daniela Nefussi’s performances, who plays both Dona Aracy and Gloria with such range, she’s almost unrecognisable. It’s a curious decision, suggesting on some level that Pierre’s mothers are the same; equally loving and caring, but marked by a difference that stems from their socio-economic backgrounds and experiences. With neither the dynamism nor charm of her previous film, Anna Muylaert’s Don’t Call Me Son lacks the emotional heft of a similarly themed film like Room, but offers an intriguing look into teen gender fluidity.
Don’t Call Me Son is now showing at the 66th Berlin Film Festival