Brazilian director Anna Muylaert’s film Don’t Call Me Son, follows the success of her previous accolade winning film, The Second Mother from 2015. As the writer and director, Muylaert has spoken boldly through her films on subjects like transgender identity and class, and her new offering follows suit. Don’t Call Me Son introduces the central character, seventeen-year-old Pierre (Naomi Nero), through a series of voyeuristic glimpses into life as he knows it. The audience watches him as he parties, plays in a band, and expresses intimacy with both men and women. His home is a cramped apartment which he shares with his frazzled and doting single mother Aracy (Daniela Nefussi) and his adoring younger sister Jaqueline (Lais Dias), but he still has ample room to be himself. Pierre enjoys his freedom; a condition symbolized by the image of him flying downhill on a bicycle with his friends through the streets of his neighborhood. In spite of hiding his desire to dress in feminine attire from his mother, he seems comfortable with his fluid identity. However, Pierre is unprepared for the overturn of his life when law enforcement take away his mother for allegedly kidnapping him from his biological family at birth. He is told that everything — including his name — is a lie.
Thrown into a new family and school, he is expected to accept this reality as genuine and dismiss his past as a long-running nightmare. Like many parents, his biological family tries to see him as a mirror of themselves, but their conservative middle-class values clash with his. Frustrated by the pressures of his new world, Pierre, known as Felipe by his biological parents, pushes back against their expectations. He begins wearing dresses with the family in public, making it clear that he cannot be the football loving, polo-shirt wearing son that they want him to be.
Adding to the disorientation of Pierre’s situation is the fact that in the film, both Pierre’s mother Aracia and his maternal mother Gloria are played by Nefussi. The familiar bizarreness of their likeness underscores Pierre’s confusion over who and what family is. Mulaert appears to enjoy playing mind games with the audience, forcing us to question, like Pierre, everything we take for granted to be true. The shots of intimate and sometimes mundane moments of everyday life, poetically shot by Barbara Alvarez, echo with another well known contemporary Brazilian film, Neighboring Sounds, and the humor mixed with high drama reminds one of Pedro Almodovar’s tele-novella-like plot twists. Mulaert’s work in Don’t Call Me Son stands apart from these other films through the unique way in which she simultaneously brings social issues to the fore and draws out the audience’s empathy through the strange circumstances she throws her characters into.