Good Manners (2017) | Locarno Film Festival 2017
Dir: Juliana Rojas/Marco Dutra | Brazil, France | Fantasy Drama | 135′
Premiering at LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL’s 7oth Anniversary, GOOD MANNERS is a lovingly and lyrically told pastel-enfused Werewolf fantasy that explores themes of class and sexuality, handling its tonal shifts with a deftness as light-footed as its female-centric cast.
In contemporary São Paulo, a young Black woman (Clara/Isabél Zuaa) takes a job as a home help for an expectant mother (Ana/Majorie Estiano) who is a member of Brazil’s privileged ‘nouveau riche’. Ana spends her time shopping and exercising in her high rise luxury condo that also becomes Clara’s home. After a sensuous pregnancy massage, Ana starts to trust Clara implicitly giving the woman all her bank details even though Clara fails to produce satisfactory references from her landlady Dona Amélia (Cida Moreira). Alarm bells ring, but it soon emerges that Clara is not the person we should be wary of. Ana has some pretty strange secrets and bizarre habits which are gradually revealed in this rather slow-burning drama enriched by clever use of hand painted scenery, for the backdrop of Sao Paulo, and pleasant musical interludes to tell its beguiling and occasionally bizarre story.
Clara and Ana soon enjoy a tender relationship that is refreshingly free from jealousy or resentment. One night they become intimate and kiss so passionately that Clara’s lips bleed but the film is not defined by a lesbian awakening, it simply signals a growing dependence between the women so strong that Ana scratches her companion’s shoulder, drawing blood and, once again, alarm bells. Ana talks of her childhood in the countryside and is saddened by a recent break with her family who continue to finance her life, despite “a mistake” on her part which remains a mystery but appears – in delicately rendered pastel drawings – to involve a one-night-stand with a rather hirsuit cowboy lover. Clara is enchanted by a musical box containing a tiny dancing horse that plays a tune that will haunt the rest of the film. Then Clara discovers large hunks of meat in the ‘fridge and, during the Full Moon, Ana sleep-walks into the street, her eyes turning a ghastly yellow. When Clara follows her one night she is terrorised to find Ana killing a cat and drinking the blood.
All this seems to unfold without too much sensationalism as the directors handle the tonal shifts with graceful aplomb making this feel more like a childrens’ fairy story rather than full on horror fare. Ana’s horrific gory birth scene takes on Alien proportions but the alien here is a rather sorrowful baby werewolf – and we feel for him, rather than fear him. With Ana’s death, Clara moves back to the poverty of her favela – cue musical interlude – again, more like a scene from Les Miserables than true Brazilian favela squalor. The little boy Joel is adorable, even when he transforms to a ‘tot werewolf’ during the full moon when he is taken to ‘the little bedroom’, a secure place with chains and fluffy toys.
All in all, GOOD MANNERS is a very well-mannered, softly crafted horror movie that has more in common with Jackanory, with its brightly coloured ‘beanstalk’ garden, than the terror inspired by Lon Chaney’s werewolf outings, but it nonetheless exerts a certain thrilling tension. Rui Pocas’ cinematography evokes vibrant images in the interiors and the CGI used for the transformations is just about convincing. We leave feeling that this is a story about the power of a mother’s transformative love rather than a tale of negative destruction and woe. If there’s one criticism, GOOD MANNERS rather outstays its welcome at 135 minutes. That said, there’s something fascinating about the film that keeps you hooked until the grand finale. MT
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017