Pierre (Naomi Nero) has a comfortable life. It's not unusual or remarkable, but as a young teenager actively exploring both bisexuality (the film's opening sequence finds Pierre enjoying both being pursued by a man and pursuing a young woman) and gender identity (when hooking up with one of them, the camera pans down to reveal he's wearing panties and a garter belt), Pierre seems relaxed in his own skin, both at school and at home with his mother Aracy (Dani Nefussi) and younger sister Jacqueline (Lais Dias). Then, the police suddenly arrest Aracy, revealing to Pierre and Jacqueline that she stole both of them from delivery rooms as infants. Pierre finds himself unexpectedly alone, thrust into an unfamiliar environment, where his "new" parents, Gloria (Nefussi again), Matheus (Matheus Nachtergaele), and younger brother Joca (Daniel Botelho) all have expectations for the child who has been missing for 17 years.
Don't Call Me Son is a fascinating, engaging, slice-of-life drama that uses an extraordinary circumstance to explore less unusual themes of isolation, personal exploration, and the expectations of family. Another movie might be more centered on the film's plot and the mechanics of how that affects those involved, but writer/director Anna Muylaert merely uses the kidnapping story as a catalyst for her characters' complex emotional struggles.
One thing viewers might not expect hearing the premise is how evenly the film is split up -- while the movie introduces the investigation into Aracy early on, Pierre isn't forced to move in with Gloria and Matheus until roughly halfway through the film. Instead, the movie builds up Pierre's world, illustrating his time playing in a band with his friends, his relationship with both a bandmate and a girl in his classes, the bond between Pierre and Jacqueline, and the overall ease with which Pierre moves through his environment. Although he locks the door when trying on lipstick, Son is not really about bigotry or bullying. There is a sense, even though Pierre is never seen openly wearing a dress or something similar, that he feels safe in his own home with Aracy and Jacqueline.
While Pierre is a sharply-drawn character (especially as played by Nero, who captures the contrast between a teenager's internal and external emotions with a deftness and authenticity), the root of the film's conflict is driven by Gloria and Matheus. As parents who have been searching for almost 20 years for their missing child, they're both bursting with enthusiasm and good cheer when they first meet Pierre. Yet, their enthusiasm also pushes their expectations forward, right down to their insistence on calling Pierre "Felipe," their original name for him. A larger family reunion scene is pitch perfect in the way it captures the traditional awkward conversations with distant relatives working with one or two memories of interests and hobbies, with the added pressure on Pierre to be the Felipe everyone expects him to be. The discord between expectations and reality push Pierre farther into his exploration of gender expression, as a way of asserting his own personality over the whims of his overeager new parents.
While this conflict brings out a streak of conservatism in Gloria and Matheus, Muylaert has sympathy for all of her characters, adding complexity to the movie's dramatic tension by including evidence that Pierre's parents aren't necessarily bigoted or hateful. When Pierre emerges from a changing room in a dress, Matheus is furious, but in the very next scene, he desperately begs Pierre for insight on what he can do to make Pierre feel welcome, so that they can be a family. Nefussi is also stunning in depicting two wildly different women who each want to love the person they consider their child, with Aracy clearly overwhelmed with guilt that her choices are about to affect the children she loves, and Gloria struggling with the knowledge that while she has "Felipe" back, the emotional distance he places between them makes her feel like he's still absent. If there's a flaw to the film, it's an abrupt conclusion that finds a bit of peace, but leaves several of the film's characters still drifting in the dramatic wake.
Kino Lorber's DVD of Don't Call Me Son has a photo of Naomi Nero on the front, wearing the heavy eyeliner and dress and a coquettish expression. Personally, my feeling is that this art, paired with the title, paints the movie solely as a story about queerphobia, when the actual story is more complex than that one element (and arguably hardly focused on it). Even the back cover features a photo of Nero in a different dress, observing his unhappy new family. The one-disc release comes in a standard eco-friendly Amaray case (the kind that uses less plastic), and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 (with English subtitles), Don't Call Me Son looks and sounds good to average on DVD, with the sound faring a bit better than the picture. The film has two pulsing club scenes that vibrate with an authentic energy that help make the audio stand out, which is otherwise largely concerned with quiet dialogue scenes between characters in domestic environments. The picture has no significant problems but looks decidedly soft, visibly lacking an extra bit of crispness to the textures and imagery or vibrance to the muted color palette that would really make the DVD shine. That said, there are no serious issues with it, such as blocking or banding.
The back cover of the DVD simply lists "Behind the Scenes," but the DVD itself reveals that to mean 9 separate bite-sized featurettes, likely released online. "The Director" (2:05), "Youth and Sexuality" (2:40), "Motherhood" (1:21), "The True Story" (1:57), "Characterization" (2:45), "Disaffection" (2:01), "Identity" (2:17), "A Film For the Young" (1:34), and "Two Mothers" (2:43) delve into the production with interviews from the cast and crew, loosely assembled by topic. Perhaps the most interesting of these featurettes is "The True Story," which reveals the movie was inspired by a Brazilian case of a boy named Pedrinho, who was also kidnapped as a child and found as a teenager. It is also refreshing to hear how positively the entire cast and crew talks about the movie's approach to gender and sexuality. All things considered, these little snippets are better than most promotional interviews included on most DVD and Blu-ray releases -- the only complaint is that there is no "Play All" function.
An original theatrical trailer is also included.
Don't Call Me Son is an impressive, original, and compelling drama, blending teenage struggles with sexuality and identity into a unique story. Recommended.