It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Most films—especially taut, lower-budgeted indies—choose one theme or dramatic premise and run with it. Others cross-wire two potent and ostensibly unrelated ideas and bask in the sparks they generate.
The terrifically assured and engrossing Brazilian film “Don’t Call Me Son” is a great example of the latter breed. On the one hand, writer/director Anna Muylaert invites us to contemplate the fluidity of adolescent gender identity via the story of teenage boy who’s testing boundaries by drifting provocatively between male and female appearances. (If this sounds like a topic for a Gender Studies class, fear not: the film is a drama, not a lecture.) On the other hand, Muylaert also probes how much of who we are comes from family, since, additionally, her tale concerns kids who were removed from their biological parents at birth.
The gender theme is announced first. We’re at an outdoor party of young people where 17-year-old Pierre (Naomi Nero)—whose androgyny radiates from his long hair and makeup as well as his sinuous movements—first nuzzles close to a guy on the dance floor, then peels off and connects with a girl. Cut to inside the house, where the couple are having energetic sex; the camera tilts down to reveal that he’s wearing women’s underwear.
Pierre’s cross-dressing is a statement of personal style and a means of rebellion, much as men wearing long hair was in generations past. Appropriately, it’s also a form of defiance that doesn’t seem to faze his peers, only those old enough not to get it. And it’s a natural stance for a kid in an arty, urban, bohemian milieu. Pierre also plays in a rock band, where he occasionally makes out with the male lead singer and finds it necessary to prevent his would-be girlfriend from interrupting their practices.