A hazy drift through vast subjects — the fluidity of adolescence and the fragility of family — Anna Muylaert’s Don’t Call Me Son works best when it goes small.
Seventeen-year-old Pierre (first-timer Naomi Nero), his mop of dark curls and charismatic androgyny suggesting a Brazilian Marc Bolan, finds his cozy, if financially limited, life with his mom, Arcay (Dani Nefussi), and younger sister upended when Ma is revealed to have stolen both her kids from their biological parents.
Arcay goes to jail and Pierre is confined to a prison of another sort: the lavish, chilly bourgeois spread of those whose DNA he shares, his “real” parents wanting only to indulge the aloof child they thought they’d never see again.
Glória, the woman who gave birth to Pierre, is also played by Nefussi, the casting choice too strenuously underscoring the film’s original Portuguese title, which translates as “There Is Only One Mother.” (Released last year, Muylaert’s previous film, about class conflict, is called The Second Mother.)
Glória and her husband’s squalling over Pierre’s loyalties to Arcay seems at once overdetermined and underdeveloped. But when the film focuses on the slinkily seductive teen’s fascination with his own body, his private rituals become absorbing productions: Locked in the bathroom, Pierre tries on lipstick, shaves his chest, and snaps pics of his G-string-adorned ass — secret ceremonies that boost his already robust sexual confidence and make him even more alluring in the wider world.
Don’t Call Me Son
Written and directed by Anna Muylaert
Opens November 2, Film Forum