Brazilian writer-director Anna Muylaert once again intricately explores the nature of class, identity, and family in her fifth feature film, the powerful and poignant Don't Call Me Son. In last year’s award-winning The Second Mother, Muylaert told the story of a live-in housekeeper who was like a surrogate mother to the family she works for, but things change when her estranged teenage daughter comes to stay with her. In Don’t Call Me Son, a family is torn apart when it is discovered that the mother, Arcay (Dani Nefusi), actually stole her children, son Pierre (Naomi Nero) and daughter Jaqueline (Lais Dias), when they were babies, and the kids’ biological parents have been searching desperately for them ever since and have now found them. Pierre is a seventeen-year-old gender-bending bisexual musician who seems relatively comfortable in his own skin, at least for a seventeen-year-old gender-bending bisexual musician, until Arcay is arrested and imprisoned for kidnapping. She might not have been a model mother, but she was his mother, and he is devastated when he is suddenly forced to move in with his biological parents, Glória (also played by Nefusi) and Matheus (Matheus Nachtergaele), who are overjoyed to have him back but were expecting someone a little bit more traditional; however, Pierre’s new younger brother, Joca (Daniel Botelho), appears to be happy he now has such a cool, if tortured, sibling. Meanwhile, Jaqueline is taken away to live with her real parents. As Glória and Matheus persist in calling Pierre by the name they gave him at birth, Felipe, the teen acts out as he tries to figure out who he is and redefine his place in a world that has been turned upside down and inside out.
Based on a true story, Don’t Call Me Son is a sensitive and honest exploration of just what family means, with intimate handheld camerawork by cinematographer Barbara Alvarez, taking viewers inside each character’s mind as it bounces between excitement and frustration. Nero makes an impressive debut as Pierre, lending complexity to a troubled teen that goes beyond the standard generational angst and ennui; his scenes in front of a mirror are simply dazzling. In an ingenious casting move, Muylaert (Collect Call, É Proibido Fumar) has Nefusi play Pierre’s birth mother and the woman who raised him, questioning just what it means to be a mother, which is further complicated because it is not obvious that the actress is performing the two parts, looking completely different in each role. Another star is Diogo Costa’s wardrobe, particularly after Pierre has moved in with his biological parents and decides to test their loyalty. There are too many plot holes and loose ends, but there’s also just the right amount of ambiguity as Muylaert considers the notion of home in clever and subtle ways.