Mother Knows Better goes back to the future
by Vitor Pinto
- Rocha’s debut feature centres on a family lunch turned upside down as the hostess explores parallel realities, mixing past and present
A family get together turns into a huge mess: the premise is not particularly original but, once developed, inspires a wide range of possibilities, from uncovering shameful secrets to the most hilariously dysfunctional situations. Mother Knows Better [+see also:
film profile] by Portuguese director Nuno Rocha is one of those films in which a family ends up reconciling the present with the past around the table, combining trauma and joy in equal doses. In Rochas’ feature debut though, this family setting is wrapped in fantasy as the lead character – a hostess played by Maria João Abreu – suddenly begins to experience a bizarre feeling which allows her to explore parallel worlds mixing time and space, changing her choices and thus launching an ordinary birthday celebration into chaos.
Years ago, producer Pandora da Cunha Telles (Ukbar Filmes) commissioned comedy projects by a group of scriptwriters. The idea was to build a reservoir of stories which could be brought to the big screen, targeting a wide audience (whatever that means in a market as small as the Portuguese one). Mother Knows Better was one of those projects, written by Roberto Pereira (whose past work includes several scripts for television and Edgar Pêra’s Virados do Avesso [+see also:
film profile]) and the director himself. Rocha – better known for his work in advertising and his short films Vicky and Sam and 3x3 – brings us an openly mainstream comedy, which, unlike other Portuguese comedies released in recent years, manages to amuse without descending into vulgar gags or insulting the audience’s intelligence. Shot in just three weeks, the film also seems to be influenced by 1980s fantasy films such as Back to the Future and Peggy Sue Got Married, like a sort of generational tribute to this kind of American family fantasy film, which marked the childhood of people who are now in their late 30s/early 40s.
Mother Knows Better unites an inspired cast around the table, including, besides Abreu, veteran actress Manuela Maria (in a brilliant performance balancing drama and comedy, with her character suffering from Alzheimer’s), the late Carlos Santos, Dalila Carmo, and Manuel Cavaco, among others. It is in the flashback scenes though that the cast gets its best lines and sequences. Up-and-coming actress Joana Pais de Brito stands out as the mother of Abreu’s character – a loving yet rather authoritarian woman who clearly had a conservative catholic upbringing in a dictatorial country. As clown-esque and stereotyped as she might be, she is easy to identify with, and her performance is moving and disarmingly hilarious. Alongside her, in a very fluid game of ping pong, Filipe Vargas (seen earlier this year in John From [+see also:
film profile]) plays a caricatured football-obsessed father, whilst the elder and rebellious daughter, played by Filipa Areosa, struggles to have her latest flame accepted by the family until she finally marries him, a man who, years later, the character (also played by Abreu) unexpectedly rejects during the family reunion.
The fantasy side of the plot required the use of some special effects in some of the scenes, which turned out to be effectively convincing for a low-budget film.
Mother Knows Better is the last Portuguese film to be released in 2016 – a year in which a total of 35 feature-length productions (14 fictional features and 11 documentaries) reached Portuguese screens and just one, A Canção de Lisboa [+see also:
film profile] by Pedro Varela, surpassed the 185,000 admission mark. The remaining 34 raked in under 32,000 admissions each.